Tag Archives: transparency

Formaggio Kitchen and the Bean-to-Bar Movement

Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge, MA

Throughout the semester we learned about how chocolate is more than just a delicious dessert. Chocolate, or cacao, has a rich history that includes a number of political, social, cultural, and economic factors. People today consume Snickers bars and Reese’s peanut butter cups unconsciously without considering the greater societal implications of their food choices. Many of the large chocolate corporations such as Hershey’s, Mars, and Cadbury produce chocolate as another commodity and typically only focus on profits. However, the cacao they use typically comes from slave labor on the coast of Africa. These companies are more concerned with how to market their product than they are with how their farmers are treated. However, there is a new movement in the chocolate industry known as the craft chocolate revolution. In this effort, local chocolate makers are making a concerted pledge to pursue a “bean-to-bar” philosophy. According to Eric Parkes, a local chocolatier from Somerville, the bean-to-bar movement means that producers are “starting off with the bean” or “making the chocolate from scratch” (WCVB Channel 5 Boston). Instead of mass-producing chocolate in factories, bean-to-bar producers are typically more localized businesses that focus on developing authentic chocolate. In these cases, they take cacao beans from a single origin country. Bean-to-bar manufacturing is labor intensive; however, the producers have control over what ingredients they use (predominantly cocoa and sugar) as well as where they source their beans. The companies are revolutionizing the big chocolate companies that have been a staple in the industry for years now. While companies like CVS typically carry predominantly name brand chocolate, there are some local stores that only sell organic, bean to bar chocolate. Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge is an example of a local food supplier that specializes in the bean-to-bar movement. Their website is very transparent about the chocolate’s country of origin, producer, and taste. They primarily sell bean-to-bar chocolate and have a direct relationship with the local chocolate producers. They refuse to sell any of the big chocolate brands due to the ambiguity regarding their chocolate sourcing. production processes, and ingredients.

https://www.wcvb.com/article/chocolate-the-bean-to-bar-movement/9128519 B

Bean-to-Bar Segment on WCVB Channel 5 Boston (Featuring Professor Martin)

Formaggio Kitchen is a European style market that provides specialty foods from around the world to their customers. They specialize in artisan cheese but also have a wide selection of bean-to-bar chocolates (Our Cambridge Store). Formaggio Kitchen was featured in a segment on the local Channel 5 News show called Chronicle. They were featured in a segment regarding artisan chocolate and a new bean-to-bar movement. One of Formaggio’s general managers is also the head buyer for all chocolate products. She buys a lot of local chocolate from producers in areas like Cambridge and Somerville. Before accepting any chocolate products into her store, she first goes through extensive taste and smell tests (similar to tastings in lecture throughout the semester). The general manager places a high level of importance on origin because “there is so much diversity in flavor profiling” (WCVB Channel 5 Boston). Formaggio specifically sells single origin chocolate. Rogue Chocolate is their most popular brand of single origin chocolate. Some of the biggest similarities between bean-to-bar chocolate companies are their size. Most of these operations include a small handful of people. Often times, artisanal chocolate companies only include one to two employees. The process of bean-to-bar chocolate making takes a significant amount of time and numerous hours of manual labor. However, instead of outsourcing chocolate production to slave laborers, these chocolate companies take on the responsibility themselves in order to produce better-tasting, more ethical chocolate. The founder of Rogue Chocolate, Colin Gasko, works directly with cacao farmers in order to source the best beans from a single origin point. Slave labor has been a persistent issue throughout the history of chocolate making and still occurs today. After the Cadbury investigation into slave labor on the island of Sao Tome and Principe, many of the cocoa farms moved to the Gold Coast or what today is known as Ghana. Child slave labor is one of the biggest issues today facing the chocolate industry. Many of the West African Coast cacao farms where the big chocolate companies source their chocolate exploit this corrupt labor system. In 2000-2001, news coverage from UK journalists uncovered the use of “enslaved young men on a cocoa farm in the Cote d’Ivoire (Berlan, 1089). Bean-to-bar chocolate companies such as Rogue Chocolate are able to combat these unjust labor practices by selectively choosing where they source their cocoa and ensure that the farming practices are ethical. This occurs through direct communication between the bean-to-bar companies and the farmers. Formaggio Kitchen focuses on selling fine chocolate but also ensures that the cocoa farming practices are ethical. They do this by analyzing both the origin country of their chocolate and the chocolate producers themselves. 

Ancienne Chocolat en Poudre

Formaggio’s website is very transparent with the information on the background of the chocolate they sell. They have a separate chocolate section with a headline that describes their mission with their chocolate selection. They emphasize how their chocolate provides “health benefits”, comes from “bean-to-bar producers”, and only contains “cacao and sugar” (Chocolate). The health benefits of chocolate are a highly disputed topic. However, there is evidence to support the health benefits of chocolate. Through laboratory and field research, scientists concluded that chocolate “reduces hypertension, minimizes cardiovascular disease, and even fight diabetes and cancer” (Howe, 43). Formaggio Kitchen not only promotes the health benefits of chocolate, they also provide instructions on how to optimize their chocolate for superior taste. For instance, one of the products that Formaggio sells is a 1kg of roasted cocoa beans called Ancienne Chocolat en Pudre. The website instructs individuals to mix the cocoa, vanilla, and cane sugar with hot milk in order to make “traditional French hot chocolate” (Chocolate). Most big corporations simply list their chocolate items. However, Formaggio provides background information on each item they have in stock including their country of origin, producer, nutritional information, as well as recipes. Formaggio only has a limited supply of French chocolate products. This ties into the Terrio reading on French Chocolatiers. France, as a nation has international recognition as one of the leaders in culinary arts (Terrio, 9). Few people, including French citizens, acknowledged chocolate making as an important part of French history like other foods such as wine and cheese. Most associate French Chocolate with other forms of desserts or pastries. Consumers even struggled differentiating artisanal French chocolate from its mass-produced counterpart (Terrio, 9). I would have expected Formaggio to carry a wide selection of French chocolates. However, with the knowledge of French Chocolate History, it is understandable that there is a limited amount of the French dessert in Formaggio’s inventory. 

Formaggio has a wide array of chocolate from a number of different countries: Belgium (3), Canada (4), France (2), Italy (7), Spain (7), The Netherlands (1), United States (15), and Vietnam (4) (Chocolate). Formaggio is very transparent with the notion that they source chocolate from a single origin country with cacao farms. It is interesting to point out that while Formaggio advertises that they collect chocolate from producers around the world, the majority of their inventory comes from the United States. However, they still maintain a high level of chocolate diversity. While the majority of the companies that Formaggio imports from are based in the United States, these companies still adhere to the bean-to-bar practices. While the country of origin provides important information, Formaggio goes one step further and includes the producers of these chocolates: Confitures a l’Ancienne (1), EH Chocolatier (2), Maglio (4), Pasticcerie Sinatti (1), Poco Dolce (2), Potomac Chocolate (2), Ritual Chocolate (2), Valrhona (1), and Xocolates Aynouse (4) (Chocolate). The general manager in charge of buying the bean-to-bar chocolate only chooses from reputable produces that have ethical labor practices and sustainable farming techniques. For each chocolate item, Formaggio provides an individual description page that includes price, quantity, and information about the chocolate itself. For instance, the Callebaut Chocolate Block – Bittersweet is 60% cacao and $10.95 per pound (Chocolate). This is slightly below the median price range for chocolate at Formaggio. The media price is approximately $15. The least expensive chocolate (Marou Chocolate Ba Ria) is from Vietnam and costs $3.95. The most expensive chocolate (Les Chocolats de Chloe Box of 12 Chocolates) is from Montreal, Canada and costs $36.95. The one downside to bean-to-bar chocolate is that it is more expensive than name brand chocolate. However, these chocolates are more organic and ethical. The bean-to-bar movement follows in line with recent trends towards the surge in organic food popularity. Today, organic food is typically more expensive than unhealthy or non-organic foods. Thus, organic food is predominantly only accessible to the middle and upper class while creating a barrier of entry for the lower class. Organic food or “yuppie chow” is also linked with gentrification in cities throughout America (Guthman, 497). Formaggio Kitchen is located in one of the wealthiest cities in the country: Cambridge, MA. Boston suffers from significant gentrification issues. Organic food markets, like Formaggio, tend to only be accessible within a upper class community and prevent lower class citizens from purchasing their chocolate due to their high prices.

Potomac Chocolate Upala 85%

In addition to price and quantity, the website also provides brief descriptions on the origin country of the chocolate, the producers, and characteristics of the chocolate. For instance, the description page underneath the Potomac Chocolate Upala 85% chocolate bar describes how the cacao is sourced from the Upala district of Costa Rica. It provides information on the producer, Ben Rasmussen, and his small workshop in the Washington DC area. He adheres strictly to bean-to-bar practices and follows all the traditional chocolate making methods. Like other bean-to-bar companies, he uses a minimum amount of ingredients: cacao beans and sugar. This particular chocolate bar is “rich and earthy dark chocolate with notes of raspberry and caramel” (Potomac Chocolate Upala 85%). It is very rare to find such a descriptive flavor description, country of origin identification, and producer information on name brand chocolate bars. Formaggio provides these descriptions under each and every chocolate bar in their inventory. Unlike many big chocolate companies, they do not provide false advertisements on their farming practices and organic quality of their chocolate. Formaggio provides honest information regarding their chocolate and gives their consumers all the tools necessary to make the right purchasing decisions. 

Formaggio’s high level of transparency regarding all facets of their sourced cacao and finished chocolate bars reveals how important ethics are to their overall success. Formaggio’s is a successful local market not only because they embrace cultural diversity and source cacao from trustworthy producers all over the world. They are successful because they do not lie to their customers. All the information one needs to make a smart, well thought-out decision regarding their purchases is at the tip of their fingers. Big chocolate companies, as we learned throughout the semester, are more focused on overall profit than they are about other greater social issues. However, small markets, like Formaggio Kitchen, are more focused on working with responsible producers and providing customers with the highest quality of chocolate possible. The bean-to-bar movement in the chocolate industry is revolutionizing how individuals farm, produce, and sell chocolate. Now, it is up to the consumer to make the smart ethical decision when it comes to their chocolate purchases. While it may be easier to walk into a CVS and purchase a Hershey’s bar for a small price, there are underlying social, political, and economic consequences that affect people throughout the chocolate industry. People rarely consider any other factor besides taste in their food purchases. When it comes to chocolate, the suppliers certainly have a large amount of responsibility when it comes to providing ethically sourced and organic chocolate. However, the consumers are responsible for choosing chocolate from local bean-to-bar producers over big chocolate companies. While it is important to acknowledge that prices are higher for bean-to-bar chocolate, it is even more important to be a conscientious consumer that strongly considers where the greater societal impact of their chocolate selection. 

Works Cited

Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on                       Cocoa Production in Ghana”. The Journal of Development Studies. Vol. 49, No. 8, 1088-          1100. 2013

“Chocolate”.Formaggio Kitchenhttps://www.formaggiokitchen.com/cambridge. 2019

Guthman, Julie. “Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of ‘Yuppie Chow’”.Food and Culture. Routledge. New York, NY. 2013.

Howe, James. “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered”. University of California Press. Vol. 12, No. 1. (Spring 2012). pp. 43-52. 

Terrio, Susan J. “Crafting the Culture and History of French Chocolate”. University of California Press.Berkley and Los Angeles, California. 2000. 

“Our Cambridge Store”.Formaggio Kitchen. 2019.                                                                                     https://www.formaggiokitchen.com/sweets/chocolate.

“Potomac Chocolate Upala 85%”. Formaggio Kitchen.       https://www.formaggiokitchen.com/potomac-chocolate-upala-85-50g. 2019

WCVB Channel 5 Boston. Chocolate: The Bean to Bar Movement.March 13, 2017. Retrieved                 from https://www.wcvb.com/article/chocolate-the-bean-to-bar-movement/9128519

The Cadbury Demise: How Lack of Transparency Spearheaded Corporate Change

The Cadbury company is such a large and powerful chocolate and confectionary company, and that comes with a certain responsibility. There are many people that are affected by Cadbury and its decisions, so every step they take has an effect on a large scale. Since Cadbury affects so many people’s lives, it is their responsibility to be transparent in all the workings of the company and to protect the most marginalized people involved in the company. Overtime, and with the exposing of worker conditions, Cadbury has changed by being more transparent and focusing on what the consumers want. A company as powerful as Cadbury has the power to change and influence how things are done within the chocolate industry. Even though the Cadbury company believed they did all they could to fix the scandal of the early 1900s, transparency could have helped or at least sped up the process of addressing the issues. This scandal definitely caused the company to assess and change their practices.

“In “intensification,” those in power are responsible both for the presence of the new products and, to a degree, for their meanings; with “extensification,” those in power may take charge of the availability of the new products, but the new users inform them with meaning.” (Mintz 153)

 Cadbury encompasses both sides of this quote because not only were they responsible for the slave labor that created the cocoa they used, they also had consumers that were able to draw their own meaning of the product (i.e. deciding to continue eating it or not). For context, as noted in Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business, in the early 1900s, there was a scandal about Cadbury getting its cacao from essentially slave labor. This encompassed the cacao plantations that were owned by Portugal in Africa, and there was a decree issued that outlawed slavery in 1903. Unsurprisingly, this decree was not enforced by Angola officials or Portuguese officials, and another form of slavery emerged to adjust to the decree. This adjustment was in the form of work contracts that were signed by workers thinking that they would be protected while working. This system was eventually exploited by official personnel on the Angola side and Portugal side (Satre 1-12). Light could have been shown on this injustice if there was more transparency on the officials end. If the Cadbury company was more involved in where their cacao was coming from, the injustices experienced by these marginalized people could have been noticed sooner. Regarding the lack of transparency during this time, Portugal is part to blame as well because the lack of transparency in what was going on in Angola could have caused the delay in response by the Cadbury brothers. Also the British officials were quite involved with trying to silence the evidence of the slave labor.

Here is a British promotional video about growing cocoa used to dispel consumer guilt:

“Cocoa Growing (1966) : British Pathé.” Internet Archive, 13 Apr. 2014, archive.org/details/youtube-EDUkrx7Qex4.

To my amazement, the system of contract working was quite similar to the tactics used within the Atlantic Slave Trade. “An agent, or a “labor merchant,” scoured an area for slaves, often far in the interior. He bargained with a chief or chiefs who, in exchange for guns and cartridges, kegs of rums, or bales of cotton, provided a specified number of men, women, or children.” (Satre 7) This similarity in mechanisms makes it hard to believe that the Cadbury brothers did not take as strong of action as they could have. An explanation for this could be that when one of the Cadbury brothers did visit Angola, they were shown a roça, a well-conditioned plantation usually used for show, which could have given him a false sense of security in the conditions of the workers. Transparency could have helped this situation as well because if multiple plantations were shown to William Cadbury then he would have truly understood the injustice that was actually happening. An interesting point is that Cadbury had reached out to the Anti-Slavery Society early on and was presented with evidence of the conditions in Angola, but they chose to not take action during that time (Satre). This makes the Cadbury brothers even more responsible for the conditions of their cacao farm workers. In this sense there was transparency and plenty of it that got ignored, and the Cadbury brothers should take more of a responsibility for that. Since it is now known that Cadbury had information regarding the slave labor and chose not to act on it, it definitely set an example to other companies that correcting causal injustice within a company is not that important. With Cadbury being so large at that time, they really shaped the way other companies viewed ethics within their product production. This influence could have resulted in other companies not prioritizing changing unethical ways because Cadbury got away with it for so long.

Another aspect of the Cadbury scandal of the early 1900s are the consumers. Consumers were strong fans of Cadbury’s products especially when chocolate was not as mass produced as it is now. So how did the consumers feel when they realized Cadbury was not being as transparent about their product as the consumers thought? Well, “despite the public interest and diplomatic angst generated by Burtt’s [Cadbury investigator] visit, New York City remained a major market for Sao Tomean cocoa” (Higgs 151). They for the most part continued to buy the products that were the result of slave labor. As time went on, consumers began to focus on the ethicality of products, so, slowly, Cadbury also reflected that for their customers. Now, since there are many ethical certifications that products can have, customers are now looking for these labels when deciding what to consume. And many companies, including Cadbury, have adjusted their products to these standards. 

An example of how the packaging of the Cadbury candy bars changed over time, with the insertion of a large fair trade sticker on the present candy bar.

Early 1990’s:

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“’Are You There?’ 1900’s Vintage Cadbury Advertisement.” Flickr, 14 Mar. 2019, flic.kr/p/j7jFhV.

Now:

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“Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Goes Fairtrade.” Flickr, 14 Mar. 2019, flic.kr/p/6JLQEP.

Cadbury really could have benefitted in initial transparency of their company. Consequently, we did gain an emphasis on fair working environments through this scandal, which has helped up over time.

Works Cited

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power : The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Penguin Books, 1986. 

Satre, Lowell J. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Ohio University Press, 2005.

Higgs, Catherine. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. Ohio University Press, 2012.

Media Cited

“Cocoa Growing (1966) : British Pathé.” Internet Archive, 13 Apr. 2014, archive.org/details/youtube-EDUkrx7Qex4.

“’Are You There?’ 1900’s Vintage Cadbury Advertisement.” Flickr, 14 Mar. 2019, flic.kr/p/j7jFhV.

“Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Goes Fairtrade.” Flickr, 14 Mar. 2019, flic.kr/p/6JLQEP.

C’est la vie? C’est la guerre! A Comparative Analysis of French and American Haute Chocolate

Sweat condensing on her brow, an American Pasty Chef attempted to balance a crescent moon shaped chocolate centerpiece atop a three-tier cake.  Being observed by a French chocolatier only added to the nerves that steeled into her clenched jaw and stabilized her trembling hands.  Hours of work had gone into this elaborate piece, an expense that would hopefully be passed on to the customer when they purchase this decadent, luxurious and ostentatious celebration of chocolate, craftsmanship and refinement.  It embodied various certifications, testifying to the veracity of the ethical production therein and extending its meaning from its origin, through the artisan, to the consumer.

Just as the bottom tangent of the chocolate piece began to set, aided by a can of spray-able liquid nitrogen intended to solidify the melty chocolate and fasten it into place, the weight of the moon rested at too deep an angle.  It tumbled.  Over the back of the cake, it gashed the bottom layer on its way to the stainless steel table where it shattered, breaking the silent concentration and cutting the tension in the room.  The Pastry chef sighed and began to collect the shrapnel with a towel, slowly scooping it into a pile for re-melting.

C’est la vie…” said the American Pastry Chef.

C’est la guerre.” replied the French Chocolatier.

This semi-fictional scene reflects the dichotomous nature of chocolate in haute cuisine between French and American spheres of distinction. The deft use of fine chocolate is prevalent in both attitudes, both value the origins and efforts of the cacao’s genesis, both have studied and practiced their craft.  However, whereas the American is resigned in the failed effort to express the cumulative value of the product and her skill, the French craftsman is steeled into resolve, determined to win the war. “Such is life, Such is war” is a common French expression that mirrors the approach of French and American approaches to chocolate in haute cuisine.  The American approach is one of collaborative effort, emphasizing the transparency of sourcing to demonstrate the rusticity of the product.  The French approach is one of competitive determination, steeped in refinement and luxury.

This analysis is not intended to present a normative argument.  That is, this is not an examination of which culture has a better or worse approach to haute cuisine in that one way is right or another is wrong.  Rather, these tools seek to explore how haute chocolate can reflect bifurcated levels of distinction. In the interest of flow and concision, the United States is referred to as ‘America’ wholly separate from other North and South American regions.  Additionally, the habitus of other European Nations such as the Netherlands and Austria may overlap with those of the French, however France is selected as grounds for comparison as it offers special distinction via various guilds and the tradition of the chocolatier.  This is also not intended to make over generalizations, it is understood that there are exceptions to trends and the examples herein were chosen to highlight the specific distinctions.

Haute Chocolate

While neither nation produces cacao, the raw ingredient for chocolate, their relative attitudes towards fine chocolate are molded by habitus.  Defined as a collection of culture, history and access to cultural and economic capital, Pierre Bourdieu offers habitus as the foundation of an individual’s foodways. (Bourdieu, 2005) The purpose of this comparative analysis is to explore the similarities and differences in American and French approaches to fine chocolate.  While both nations enjoy a reputation for the production of fine chocolate, they have very different attitudes and approaches to the market.  This analysis intends to contrast these attitudes, provide examples that demonstrate the distinction between distinctions, define the roles of distinction and habitus, and critically analyze how these attitudes are expressed in an effort to better understand the role of nationality and culture in the growth of the fine chocolate market.

Where an individual’s habitus lies is dependent on their perceived cultural and economic capital.  This capital functions as a social currency, lending veracity to their perceived identity, be it as a ‘foodie,’ ‘gourmand,’ ‘conscious consumer’ or other informal title, cementing an individual’s place inside or outside of distinct groups. (Power, 1999)  An individual’s food choices, in this case chocolate brands, reinforce their identity and allow them to explore other, tangential foodways with more comfort and familiarity.  The intersection of economic and cultural capital is particularly informative in an analysis of chocolate brands as each is designed for a particular market.  While the positions of brands along the axis may be of some debate, literature and marketing materials often guide it’s position by utilizing adjectives such as ‘luxury,’ ‘rustic’ or ‘bean to bar.’

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For the purpose of this analysis, focus will be placed on the brands and approaches on the left side, High Cultural Capital with varying Economic Capital.  Haute culture, if not cuisine, is by definition high in cultural capital as its purpose is to push the boundaries of sensory experience and offer unique, ephemeral products.  Food choices made accordingly serve as evidence of ‘distinction,’ which “reflects the ability of dominant class factions to legitimate their tastes as superior.” (Johnston & Bauman, 2015) As illustrated, there are many brands that cluster in the top left corner, with High Economic capital.  These products are advertised as expensive and luxurious.  In this context, luxury can be defined as a product whose price exceeds the cost of raw materials, processing and labor. Fine cacao makes up only 5 -7 % of global production. (Martin & Sampeck, 2015)  Its consumption indicates a desire to separate one’s experience from the challenges of the everyday.  Within the world of chocolate, this means a simplification, or complete ignorance, of the harsh realities of cacao production.

C’est la vie…

The American approach to haute chocolate is as diverse as any other.  Foodie culture has elevated chefs to rock-star status. As such, in 2018 one is as likely to encounter an acclaimed chef or chocolate producer who looks a bit different from a traditional, clean cut chocolatier.  Tattoos, long beards and bespoke eyeglasses offer credence to the adept skill and alluring aloofness of urban chefdom.  This approachability, itself a rebellion from rigidly structured hierarchies of French brigade styled kitchens, offers the transparency that consumers demand.  Buzz words such as ‘bean to bar,’ ‘artisanal,’ and ‘chef inspired’ adorn many of commodity products.  The Mast Brothers experience is an exceptional case study of the consequences of betraying this transparency.

In late 2015, a former employee who blogs for dallasfood.org under the name Scott, posted a blog that uncovered a betrayal of transparency by the Mast Brothers, operators of a specialty chocolate company that sold ten dollar bars of chocolate at Whole Foods.  According to the author, commodity chocolate was being melted down and repackaged into luxury advertised bars.  The follow up Quartz article blew the story up and the Mast Brothers became the poster boys for forged identities in the artisanal community.  The placement of the product, in high end grocery stores, themselves suspect of duplicitous marketing, combined with a curated narrative about the ‘hipsterness’ of bar, offered little defense as the supposed transparency on offer became opaque.  The backlash was swift and harsh, eventually leading to an apology and reintroduction of the product.

 

Right Image: Nick Zukin Twitter @extramsg

Left image: Mast Brothers Facebook

Taza chocolate is a craft chocolate producer based in Massachusetts.  Their branding and sourcing heavily refers to Mesoamerican origins, minimal processing and Fair Trade sourcing.  The chocolate itself remains slightly grainy, an effect usually eliminated in industrial processing, testifying to the rustic nature of the product.  Taza offers a chocolate experience very different from luxury French and European Brands.  Advertised as ‘stone ground organic direct trade’ their products offer a sensorial connection to Mesoamerican chocolate history cementing the consumer’s identity as a thoughtful ‘foodie’ if not a conscious consumer. Taza compounds their commitment to transparency and rusticity with tours of their manufacturing facility, with old timey equipment and informative guides.  This producer is an example of the ‘rustic’ or unrefined American approach.

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Image: Amazon.com

In any chocolate culture, Valentine’s Day is a special occasion.  Heart shaped boxes of chocolate for any price point are available for gifting.  It is no surprise that at the highest level of foodie distinction, The James Beard Foundation, would center chocolate consumption for the event.  Enter Staten Island Chef Peter Botros and his team.  Famous for his restaurant The Stone House at Clove Lakes, Chef Botros collaborated with the JBF for a themed titled ‘Dreaming in Chocolate’.  A 7 course dinner for 175$ per person, the evening featured Seared Dayboat Scallop with Chocolate-Chestnut Cream, Potato Crisps, and cocao nibs and other creative chocolate expressions. This event is one of many collaborative efforts between institutions and individuals that celebrate and market the chocolate experience.

Chocolate competitions, courses, books and best practice videos further explore the collaborative nature of American haute chocolate.  Working with certifying bodies such as USDA organics, The Rainbow Coalition and Fair Trade emphasize the transparency and minimal processing that offers a more rustic experience typify the American approach.

C’est la guerre…

French haute cuisine needs little introduction.  France it is often claimed is home to the best wine, the best cheese and the best bread.  An encounter with any Francophile will bear this out.  However, the French approach to haute chocolate bifurcates from the American approach in a number of ways.  Examples of the competitive nature, refinement and luxurious identities offered by French chocolatiers contrast with those of American producers is telling ways.

French chocolate bars and advertisements market the luxury of French chocolate through visceral imagery.  Gold script, royal velvet and dark shiny tones offer justification for the high prices of luxury bars.  An extreme example of this is the famous Jean Paul Hevin chocolate stiletto, featured in BBC production ‘Chocolate Perfection with Michel Roux Jr”.  Produced by hand, in one size and for only the right foot, this chocolate product blurs the line between food and art.  The creation is demonstrative of refined skills of the chocolatier. Its image practically screams ‘SEX’ and its lack of purpose pushes its existence into one of pure ostentation.  This product would be unthinkable using the methods and consistency of a rustic chocolate, such as Taza and pedigreed chefs rely on relationships with the most refined legacy chocolate producers in France.

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Refined chocolate producer Valhrona based in Tain l’Hermitage outside of Lyon, France is one of the leading producers of gastronomic chocolate.  Their products offer elite levels of distinction with a legacy dating from 1922.  (Coe & Coe, 1996) A central player in haute chocolate, Valhrona has a robust sourcing plan, has established chocolate schools, and is based in one of the richest wine cultures in Europe.  As such, they were one of the first to offer chocolate in the cru, grand cru, and premier cru varieties, highlighting the value of the terroir expressed in their chocolate.  By using adjectives familiar to audiences with an excess of cultural and economic capital, Valhrona’s refined approach to chocolate typifies the pride and mastery of knowledge demanded by French haute chocolate.  The institutional investment in chocolatiers and their craft is shared with official national recognition.

The Mielleur Ouvrier de France, MOF, is awarded to the ‘best craftsmen of France’ and typifies the competitive nature of French haute chocolate.  Rather than compete against others, this competition invites only French chocolatiers to compete against their own skills.  Preparations take months or years, the winners are selected by former MOFs, and each competition may offer none or many awards.  The award is offered to other craft industries as well, but few are as compelling or tempting as the chocolatiers. This competitive nature, designed to weed out the unworthy, is distinct

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As illustrated in the diagram above, French and American chocolate distinctions differ in a number of ways.  The central overlap, that of price, exoticity, specialty and terroir, form core values from which the cultures begin to bifurcate.  These adjectives, among others, describe shared distinctions, realms where haute chocolate is intrinsically valued, fetishized and subject to the highest levels of cultural and economic capital.  An analysis of French and American examples of haute chocolate yields different yet related levels of distinction.

These differences can be juxtaposed to fully illustrate and expose a dichotomy of distinction.  Collaborative vs competitive, rustic vs refined and transparent vs luxurious are just a few of the bifurcated approaches to chocolate and the core values that make up their relative haute culture.  The American approach is market based, placing emphasis on the quality, economic value and artisanal specialization of small ‘bean to bar’ companies who place equal importance on the genesis of the cacao as well as the locality of the producer, collaborating with certifying bodies to enhance the veracity of their claims.  The French models emphasizes a more competitive approach where the chocolatier is subject to communally agreed upon standards, exemplified in the MOF and artisan guilds.  The American ‘bean to bar’ isolates a particular geography, culture and terroir and the artisans strive to express that sense of place through minimal industrialization often to the detriment of texture, color or perceived sweetness.  Conversely, French legacy brands, such as Valhrona, often refine the raw product, blending it with other select varieties of plant and geography to create a specialized flavor, emphasizing the elite-ness, luxury and unique qualities of specialty varieties.

Critically, the transparent and luxurious approaches to haute chocolate may be the most illustrative of the distinct dichotomies.  American chocolate bars often prominently feature recognized symbols of transparency.  Affiliations with USDA Organics, Fair Trade, Free Trade the Rainforest Alliance offer cultural capital to the consumers that reflects their personal core values and communicates to themselves and others that they are concerned with the class struggles and systemic inequities inherent in the cacao trade.  Conversely, French chocolate bars rely much more heavily on images of luxury.  French chocolate production is more closely related to national legacy; one removed from the conflicted history of colonialism and offers a product with a value that exceeds the costs of raw materials and the human labor used to produce it.

Both chocolate cultures have evolved foodways that reflect cultural values inherent in wider social and economic spheres. (Meigs, 1997) The arguments of the analysis herein could very well be extrapolated and transposed onto similar products, such as bread, cheese or wine.  Chocolate holds a special place in this reflection because the raw material, cacao, is not grown in the US or in France.  Both carry with them a burdened class legacy and have had a historic hand in oppressive economic systems that relied on exploitation and enslavement.  Future research could examine how haute chocolate deals with these legacies differ between nations, however both mold the perception of the consumer based on external values already inherent in their respective cultures.

References:

Bourdieu, Pierre.  2005.  “Taste of Luxury, Taste of Necessity.”  In The Taste Culture Reader:  Experiencing Food and Drink, edited by Carolyn Korsmeyer, pp. 72-78.  New York:  Berg

Coe & Coe, 1996. The True History of Chocolate. Thames & Hudson Ltd, London p259

Johnston & Bauman. 2015. Foodies: Democracy and Distinction in the Gourmet Foodscape. p32 Routledge, London & New York

Martin, Carla D., and Kathryn E. Sampeck. 2015. The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe. socio.hu. The Social Meaning of Food, Special Issue in English 3: 37-60

Meigs, Anna. 1997. Food as a Cultural Construction. Food and Foodways 2(1): 431-457.

Power, Elaine M. 1999. An Introduction to Pierre Bourdieu’s Key Theoretical Constructs. Journal for the Study of Food and Society 3

 

21st Century Confections: Culinary Modernism and Taza Chocolate

The production of chocolate and other confectionary foods can be traced back centuries to the Aztec and Maya civilizations, which used various tools and techniques to prepare their cacao-rich meals. For example, the use of a whisk-like tool called a molinillo allowed members of Aztec society to add froth to their hot drinks. Since then, many other technologies and policies have been invented that have not only accelerated the production of chocolate, but have also made it more accessible as well. As food becomes increasingly more ubiquitous throughout the world, Rachel Lauden’s concept of Culinary Modernism becomes more relevant than ever. Because Culinary Modernism revolves around the effects of industrialization on the food industry, we can use it as a framework for the numerous ways in which modernization has changed and continues to change the chocolate industry. Specifically, we will be analyzing the policies and technology of the craft chocolate producer, Taza Chocolate, in the hopes of learning one perspective on how companies handle the issues that plague the chocolate industry. Through this analysis, we will then gauge how well Taza fits Culinary Modernism’s definition. This multimedia essay argues that by employing large degrees of transparency and becoming more connected to customers through the internet, chocolate producers are better suited for tackling problems like child slavery, customer outreach, and transportation of goods over long distances.

One of the major challenges facing the chocolate industry is child slavery, which mainly manifests itself in poor, rural areas. There are many factors contributing to this tragic practice, and there are discrepancies between different countries. According to Amanda Berlan in her study Social Sustainability in Agriculture, one of the major causes of child slavery in impoverished countries like Ghana is womens’ lack of economic independence. To add some context, it is “very common” for a household in Ghana to experience a divorce, and typical single mothers “could not afford” spending money on their child’s education. The husbands also tended to not pay for the childrens’ education because “they did not want the [ex-wives] to ‘benefit’ from them financially” (Berlan, 8).  By depriving the children of any education, their options are limited, and because the job market is so limited, children are given no choice but to work in grueling sectors like the cacao industry in order to support themselves and their families. In this sense, the children are not exactly working against their will, but their predicament and limited employment options prevents them from having choice.

With this issue in mind, one innovative policy that Taza Chocolate has implemented in order to empower women in rural areas can be traced to Taza’s commitment in producing its annual Transparency Report. Through this lengthy account, Taza provides a detailed outline of where and how they source their cacao, allowing curious customers to personally critique Taza’s business practices. Some information that is particularly of interest is that the company procures its cacao from five partner farms in three different countries: Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Ecuador, which are known to be economically poor. Furthermore, we can tell that Taza places a considerable amount of attention to female farmers, because it dedicates an entire category in the Transparency Report to the number of “Female Farmers Benefited” as a result of the partnership. In particular, the women benefit from “a premium of at least 500 US dollars per metric ton above the NYICE (market) price”, and Taza never purchases cacao “less than $2,800 per metric ton”. In total, during the year 2017, 643 female farmers and 1608 other farmers benefitted from this relationship.

Similarly to what Berlan describes in her research on family life in Ghana, countries like Ecuador and the Dominican Republic (two of the three countries where Taza purchases its cacao), have experienced a surge in divorces and single-motherhood. In addition, of these single mothers, “between 20 and 50 percent… are not household heads”, thereby, showing that there is a shortage of independence for women within these countries’ borders (Kennedy, 2). Taza’s partnership with women in these countries provides some financial security, since these female farmers have a regular customer that is willing to buy their produce at sustainable prices. By focusing on these individuals, Taza is bolstering their economic and social independence, which should help to reduce the levels of child slavery, since children will not be pressured to work if their household is procuring a steady income.

Furthermore, the Taza Report is innovative because the transparency that it creates places a large amount of accountability on the company to continue maintaining this strong and healthy relationships with their farmers. It forces customers back at the stores to scrutinize the company’s practices, thus, administering pressure to continue working sustainably.  Furthermore, this report placed Taza in a cohort of craft chocolate producers who have placed an emphasis on sourcing humane cacao, which not only educates the general public about the atrocities that can occur in modern-day chocolate production, but also urges governments and other chocolate corporations to take action. We can see that there is a growing public awareness of these issues by looking at this article by the Huffington Post, for example, which not only explains some of the ways in which consumers contribute to child slavery, but also includes a petition at the bottom of the article to push Hershey’s corporate responsibility towards humane cacao, as well as other means by which the consumer can get involved in a humanitarian role. This shows that companies like Taza can have a genuine amount of influence on the consumer side as well through education that can eventually create change.

In addition to aiding the workers at the bottom of the production process, Taza Chocolate is now finding ways in which it can improve the customer experience as well. In this regard, the company has expanded into the e-commerce sector in order to increase the selling of their products and interact with customers outside of their local market. There are two mediums that Taza utilizes in order to engage in e-commerce: the company website and listings on Amazon.com. The website has existed since 2015 and company chocolate listings have been available on Amazon since 2016.

 

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Taza Chocolate is known for their disc-shaped confections. Some typical flavors one might find in their stores are cinnamon, chili pepper, and brown sugar.

 

According to a Taza representative that I interviewed, although the craft chocolate producer is now offering its wares online, it still gets a large majority of its revenue from its brick-and-mortar stores like the central one at Somerville, MA. Furthermore, the Taza representative also stated that, according to company records, the “typical” customer that participates in their e-commerce sector is very different from the customers that physically enter the stores. For instance, the customers entering the stores tend to be more adventurous and willing to try different kinds of exotic chocolate flavors during their visit. They also tend to order chocolates with higher sugar contents, because they want to encounter the “sweet chocolate experience”. In contrast, online shoppers tended to order more classic chocolate bars and flavors, such as Taza’s Amaze Bars. They also ordered more refined and dark chocolates than their brick-and-mortar counterparts, thereby, showing more interest in the quality of the cacaos’ preparation. In any case, Taza’s decision to utilize the internet has diversified its clientele, which provides more freedom and creativity in confectionary offerings.

As the internet continues to connect people at enormous scales, the dispersal of chocolate and other foods across national and international lines has taken the world by storm. This gives rise to a concept that the famous food historian, Rachel Laudan, dubs “Culinary Modernism”, a movement that embraces food that is “industrial, novel, and fast” and is “available more or less equally to all” (Laudan, 40). Taza Chocolate has contributed to this exponentially growing movement through the online interaction with its customers, which makes ordering chocolate more accessible throughout the country by simply being an option. The fact that anyone can purchase chocolate with a click of a button from anywhere inside of the United States eliminates various spacial boundaries hindering potential customers.

However, Taza and other craft chocolate producers that have the means by which to ship their products do not quite fit the modal presented by Laudan’s Culinary Modernism. For instance, Lauden’s definition mentions that food pertaining to Culinary Modernism has the qualities of being “processed” and “food of the elite at a price everyone could afford” (40). Taza prides itself in outputting high-quality chocolate that is made from fine cacao and other organic materials. According to the Wholesale page on their website, all of their chocolate is “Certified USDA Organic, Certified Gluten Free, Non GMO Project Verified, Kosher, soy-free, dairy-free, and vegan”, which contradicts Culinary Modernism’s view that the spread of food on a global scale has deteriorated food quality. Furthermore, the kind of products that Taza offers are quite expensive when considering that, according to Dr. Carla Martin, a professor at Harvard University in the Department of African and African American Studies, the maximum price at which average people would be willing to buy chocolate before drastically reducing the chances of purchase is $3.99. The cheapest product that Taza sells on their online store is $5.00, which pushes the limits of the $3.99 pain-point. This also does not account for shipping, which depends on the distance that the chocolate must travel. Because average people would not typically purchase chocolate at such high prices, this eliminates Taza’s chocolates as a commodity that “everyone could afford”. As such, it does not fit within the boundaries proposed by Rachel Laudan’s Culinary Modernism.

Although exposing customers to online chocolate has helped Taza with customer outreach, perhaps one of the most difficult challenges it faces is what comes after a customer clicks the “buy” button: transportation and delivery. Getting an object from point A to point B has been a perennial problem throughout mankind’s history, especially when dealing with perishables. According to Jack Goody, in the early nineteenth century, we made huge strides in this regard  with the revolutionizing invention of refrigeration and artificial freezing. The incorporation of this technology into vehicles widened the possibilities for food transport, and we saw the manifestation of this novelty when “the first refrigerated rail car brought butter from Ogdensburg, New York, to Boston, Massachusetts” (Goody, 78). Since then, the transportation of perishables, such as chocolate, has become more manageable. This rise of technological innovation in the transportation sector and the increased access to food is one of the causes for Rachel Lauden’s Culinary Modernism.

Chocolate itself is a particularly difficult commodity to preserve during transit. With such a low melting point, a chocolate producer must establish a lot of infrastructure in order to safely transport chocolate to its destination. The German Insurance Association states that some of the many factors contributing to the melting of chocolate in transit are: “season, the route, the duration of the voyage, and the container stowage space on board”. One of the only ways to properly ship chocolate in bulk is by using refrigerated containers that can maintain the delicate temperatures required to not only keep the chocolate solid, but to also ensure that the flavor within the wrapping is preserved. However, purchasing a refrigerated container can be quite expensive depending on the size of the container. The price range can go from $10,000-$15,000, which is a considerable amount of money for a small chocolate producer like Taza. For this reason, transporting chocolate in bulk is a barrier for Taza, but this has not stopped it from transporting its goods all over the country.

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This is an image of a refrigerated container that a company would use to transport perishables, such as red meat, fish, and chocolate.

Shipping gets more challenging when it comes to personal delivery after a user purchases a chocolate from the online store. According to Taza Chocolate’s online policy, when shipping chocolates to destinations with “temperatures over 70ºF”, the shipment may be postponed in order to delay the transit time or they may even require customers to “select expedited shipping”, which adds an extra cost to the purchase. They also include ice packs and special insulated material that will reduce the chances of the chocolate melting. Perhaps because of the difficulty of transporting chocolate, Taza currently does not ship internationally, but as Taza continues to grow and technology continues to advance, we may find people tasting classic Somerville chocolate outside of the United States. The fact that Taza Chocolate has been able to expand beyond its local stores is impressive and proves that it is contributing to the ever-expanding wave of Culinary Modernism by giving customers, who would not normally have brick-and-mortar stores immediately available, access to the sweet Taza Chocolate brand.

In conclusion, Rachel Lauden’s concept of Culinary Modernism has provided a conceptual framework for how technology has shaped the food we eat. By analyzing the effects that Culinary Modernism has had on a company like Taza Chocolate, we can observe what challenges modernization has helped to solve within the chocolate industry, which include the plight of child labor, digital consumer outreach, and the shipping of perishables. The initiatives in transparency and e-commerce, in particular, have helped Taza grow as a company, and, looking forward, its future as a confections producer looks bright.

 

Works Cited
“2017 Transparency Report.” Taza Chocolate, Dec. 2017,           http://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/2017-transparency-report.
“Chocolate.” Lemons, http://www.tis-gdv.de/tis_e/ware/lebensmi/schoko/schoko.htm#container.
Goody, Jack. 2013[1982]. “Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine.” pp. 72-88
Gregory, Amanda. “Chocolate and Child Slavery: Say No to Human Trafficking This Holiday Season.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 7 Dec. 2017, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amanda-gregory/chocolate-and-child-slave_b_4181089.html
Kennedy, Sheela and Ruggles, Steven. “Single Parenthood and Intergenerational Coresidence in Developing Countries.” Single Parenthood and Intergenerational Coresidence in Developing Countries , University of Minnesota, 27 Sept. 2013, paa2014.princeton.edu/papers/141449.
Laudan, Rachel. “A Plea for Culinary Modernism: Why We Should Love New, Fast, Processed Food.” Gastronomica, vol. 1, no. 1, Feb. 2001, pp. 36–44., doi:10.1525/gfc.2001.1.1.36.

 

 

Taza Sets the (Chocolate) Bar for Direct Trade and Ethical Sourcing

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.

TazaPartners

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.

TazaBar

TazaCertifications

 

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.

 

 

 

Works Cited:

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.

“Taza Direct Trade.” Taza Chocolate, http://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/taza-direct-trade.

Down to the Details: Dissecting the Intended Audience of Two NYC Chocolate Shops

New York City is constantly brimming with new additions to the food scene, and when it comes to chocolate, The Meadow and Chelsea Market Baskets are two specialty shops that aim to enhance one’s sensory and social experience. Closer comparison between these stores also yields distinct differences in their intended audience and marketing incentive. Whereas Chelsea Market Baskets has a more pronounced focus on gift purchasing and impulse buying, The Meadow offers a more well-rounded selection of origins and varieties, establishing itself as a solid destination for connoisseurs and consumers who place a greater priority on food product transparency.

Chelsea Market Baskets 

Chelsea Market Baskets (CMB) is located inside Chelsea Market, which boasts about 6 million visitors annually (Chelsea Market). The chocolate selection here is divided into three sections: Popular Chocolates, Specialty Chocolates (a sign reads “Chocolates that are not found in many places and we think are worth a bit of effort to find”), and Connoisseurs Chocolates (“Top quality chocolates that we are especially proud of and have sought out from smaller manufacturers”). The prices vary from around $3 to $11 per product.

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CMB’s three sections of chocolate (shot with iPhone)

Selection

Whereas mass manufacturers rely on wholesale companies to ensure lower costs, bean-to-bar makers take pride in carefully sourcing higher quality beans through a more collaborative environment with farmers and aim to increase product transparency (Dandelion Chocolate). Many bean-to-bar goods are offered here, and while most of the single origin bars only designate the country of origin, Dandelion Chocolate and Sol Cacao specify the estate where their beans come from: Akesson’s Farm in Madagascar.

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Bean-to-bar makers Sol Cacao and Dandelion specify the estate from which their beans are sourced (shot with iPhone). 

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On the other hand, CMB also offers an equal amount of mass-produced chocolate by major European manufacturers (e.g. Cote d’Or). At least five brands represented at CMB incorporate more typical “Big Chocolate” ingredients: more refined sugar and emulsifiers (e.g. soy lecithin) to substitute for more expensive cocoa butter (Albader 55). This not only reduces production costs but also reduces the number of polyphenols (which can help reduce LDL cholesterol and raise HDL concentrations) naturally found in cocoa butter (Watson et al. 267). The homogenization of these sweeter, more artificially flavored products with the all-natural and single origin bars implies that the larger focus of CMB may be on the overall appeal of the product, rather than the nutritional value or manner of production.

Examination of packaging and flavor selection also furthers my impression that CMB greatest motive is to attract the gift-giving or impulse buyer. Several eye-catching packaging labels showcase cartooned creatures, which have been shown to specifically attract children (Shekhar and Raveendran 57). Makers such as Vintage Plantations showcase vibrant colors or paintings of exotic habitats; the dimension of packaging design that most significantly predicts impulsive buying is visual design (Cahyorini and Rusfian 17). Selling more visually attractive products is a particularly beneficial marketing strategy, because the more exposure to visual cues in packaging, the higher the probability of buying chocolates (Shekhar and Raveendran 60). Certainly, customers may come with a particular product in mind, but for those more impulse-driven visitors, CMB offers several choices that facilitate purchasing through graphic appeal. Another effective marketing strategy here is catering to the traditional “American” appetite. Many flavored chocolates are fused with bacon, caramel, cookies, or other familiar flavors; culturally, we are psychologically attracted to foods that are both sweet and high in fat (Benton 214). By offering a mixture of single-origin and mass-manufactured chocolate, visually attractive products, and both familiar and novel flavors, CMB accommodates all ages and flavor preferences.The primary goal is to retail “premium chocolates,” value-added products not just in terms of quality but also “taste and texture, packaging, image and perception, and communication” (Linemayr 13).

Visually appealing products (shot with iPhone)

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Fusing bacon with chocolate

Ethical Concerns

CMB offers a number of Fair Trade products, which are based on a collective effort to justly compensate farmers. However, many of the label’s claims are not accomplished, and a very small proportion of money reaches the poverty-stricken farmers at the base of the production chain (Martin). The growing ubiquitousness of Fair Trade has led to a dilution of its label, with some companies merely using it to enhance their public image (Sylla 133). For more knowledgable consumers, CMB offers several Direct Trade goods by makers who offer more substantial premiums to farmers. Taza, which created the “chocolate industry’s first third-party certified Direct Trade cacao sourcing program,” publishes an annual cacao sourcing transparency report, listing in detail the premiums paid to their farmers (Taza Chocolate). Over fifteen of Taza’s products are sold at CMB, all of them in the “Popular Chocolates” selection, thereby facilitating an outlet by which visitors can enjoy the unique taste of their stone-ground chocolate but also learn about their socially responsible practices. By representing several companies that work beyond simply paying Fair Trade premiums, CMB offers potential for spreading more awareness about the more grassroots approach to relieving ethical issues in chocolate production.

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A shot from Taza’s annual sourcing transparency report (Taza Chocolate)

 

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Taza selection at CMB (shot with iPhone)

Taste

I purchased a few bars from each store to share some interesting flavors and textures unique to each location. From CMB, I purchased Taza’s Cinnamon Stone Ground Chocolate Mexicano Discs. Taza is known for their unique processing technique where traditional Mexican style stone mills, or molinos, are used to grind the beans. This accentuates the bold flavors of the unconched chocolate, producing a rustic, gritty texture that lingers on the tongue. Taza allows the consumer to harken back to historical Mesoamerican chocolate traditions through the similar process of grinding cacao on a stone, or metate (Presilla 26). I loved the biscuit-like texture because it allowed me to taste the bold cacao, sugar, and warm cinnamon individually.

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I was first drawn to the artwork on Amano’s package and after turning it over, I found that Amano is the most highly awarded chocolate maker in America, which piqued my interest in its taste. Madagascar cacao is known for being fruity, and this tastes very smooth with clean raspberry, black currant, and cherry notes (Presilla 139).

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The Meadow

The Meadow is located in the West Village, and pricing is significantly on the higher end, ranging from around $6 to $22 per bar. Like CMB, the chocolate selection is divided into three sections, albeit for different categories: the first section comprises flavored chocolates, the second comprising single-origin bars and bean-to-bar makers, and the third for dark chocolate (85% cacao content or higher).

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The Meadow’s three sections of chocolate (shot with iPhone)

Selection

Unlike CMB, the vast majority of products here are by small batch craft makers, and one instantly notices the emphasis on minimal and natural ingredients. The flavored chocolates here rarely consist of emulsifiers or artificial sweeteners, and the associate can name several products with higher amounts of non-deodorized cocoa butter. The samples offered were only from 100% cacao bars, which may be a more unconventional choice for tasting. Some individuals may not be familiar with such astringent, potent flavors, but The Meadow urges one to stay true to the the pure experience of cacao. These factors all lead to marketing more health-conscious products; 100% cacao bars contain no sugar, and dark chocolate contains the most significant levels of antioxidant polyphenols and flavonoids, which have beneficial effects on hypertension and vascular disorders (Haber and Gallus 1287).

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Tasting samples (shot with iPhone)

A thorough understanding of the selection is largely dependent on the visitor’s level of understanding of origin and terroir. There are significantly more single origin countries presented here; the Francois Pralus single origin bars span eight countries. Whereas CMB retails Madagascar chocolate bars which source beans from a single farm (Akesson’s), actual chocolate bars made by Akesson’s are sold here. Akesson’s is a family-owned heritage plantation, which provides beans for many U.S. based chocolate companies, such as Dick Taylor, Patric, and Woodblock, all of which can be found at The Meadow (Carla Martin, personal communication, May 2 2017). This selection offers a dynamic medium for tasting and comparing flavors made from varying partners within the supply chain.

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Francois Pralus selection (shot with iPhone)

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Akesson’s single plantation chocolate

The Francois Pralus bars list not only the country of origin but also the cacao variety used. Other bars state “Porcelana” on the front, a criollo variety that is prized for its nuttiness and low astringency (Presilla 67). Those who are familiar with or are in favor of a specific cacao variety will find the detail-oriented selection at The Meadow particularly accommodating.

Several bars are labeled “Chuao,” one of the most coveted type of criollo beans. Today, the Chuao plantation in Chuao, Venezuela is run by a small community that adheres to a centuries-long tradition of processing and operations (Presilla 77). The narrow valley yields a very limited space for cultivating cacao, producing only about 16 to 17 metric tons annually, but the beans are highly coveted for their taste and quality (White). The reputation of Chuao has led some makers to misappropriate its name and branding significance to mimic the terroir effect of the Chuao geographical region (Giovannucci et al. xv). This controversy itself is implicated at The Meadow, where I found two “Chuao” bars: one from Francois Pralus and the other by Domori. Although the Francois Pralus bar sources specifically from the Chuao village, the Domori bar is made from beans in a different region of Venezuela where the genetics of the Chuao strain have been implanted (The Meadow). This “Chuao” labeling despite it being produced outside of the valued village raises questions of legitimacy and violations of terroir, which places a strong emphasis on geographical origin, specifically, the “link between the product and the production area, depending on natural and climate conditions in the region” (Aurier et al.). The Domori bar also distances itself from the cultural and historical prestige associated with terroir. The Francois Pralus Chuao bar ($14) is more popular than the Domori Chuao bar ($8), perhaps due to an understanding of the terroir complications at hand, again likening consumer knowledge as an important factor for visitors.

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This is a cacao pod in the Chuao region, lauded for its terroir and superior criollo beans (Wikimedia Commons). 

 

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The Francois Pralus and Domori “Chuao” bars (shot with iPhone)

Domori

Ethical Concerns

The Meadow represents a nice selection of Fair Trade and Direct Trade goods, and the sales associate is also fairly knowledgable about the downsides of the Fair Trade label. He pinpointed a few companies working more directly with their farmers, such as Madécasse. Madécasse, which makes their chocolate directly in Madagascar, pays farmers 10% higher than the maximum price for dry superior cacao and 55% higher than the median price for all cacao (Madécasse Social Impact Report).

He also told me about Askinosie, one of The Meadow’s top-selling companies, which places photos of their farmers, a map of their estate, and twine from their cacao bags on their packaging, attempting to secure a bridge of transparency with the consumer. Askinosie also pays a significantly higher premium than the Fair Trade market price, supports nutritional programs for children in underdeveloped countries, and shares a percentage of its profits through their “A Stake in the Outcome” program, incentivizing farmers to constantly improve methods to ensure better quality (Askinosie Chocolate). The selection at The Meadow, in addition to the knowledge of its sales associates, is better marketed towards spreading awareness of ethical issues and their relation to small batch makers.

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Askinosie shares and explains financial statements with their farmers (Askinosie).

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Askinosie goods at The Meadow (shot with iPhone)

Taste

Bertil Akesson’s plantation in the Sambirano Valley of Madagascar is divided into four smaller estates: Madirofolo, Menavava, Bejofo, and Ambolikapiky, but only the latter two provide the beans for Akesson’s own chocolate bars (Cocoa Runners). I wanted to compare an Akesson’s Chocolate with another maker who sources from Akesson’s Farm (e.g. Dick Taylor).

The Dick Taylor chocolate was very tart with cranberry and orange notes. The potent astringency significantly differed from the more sweet, berry-flavored Amano Madagascar bar. It finished off with a slightly overroasted taste, which made me experience firsthand how different bars sourcing from the same geographical region can yield differing flavors based on each company’s processing methods.

Dick Taylor

My second purchase was an Akesson’s 75% Criollo Bejofo Estate bar. Every Akesson’s bar shows not only which of the 4 smaller estates the cacao comes from but also the variety of beans used. According to the package, 300 tons of trinitario cacao are produced on Akesson’s Farm, but a limited 2 tons of criollo cacao are harvested separately to make this specific chocolate. As criollo varieties are generally perceived as the most mellow and refined in flavor, I compared the taste of this bar with the more trinitario-based Dick Taylor bar (Presilla 36). The Akesson’s bar has a familiar chocolatey aroma and significantly more refined taste with soft, tropical notes (papaya or peach) that balanced well with a very mild tartness. It has a much longer mouthfeel with a velvety texture. Of all the three Madagascar bars I purchased, this had the most delicate nuttiness and creaminess. Originally, I had thought the Amano, Dick Taylor, and Akesson’s bars would be difficult to differentiate in flavor as they all originate in Madagascar, but I was able to experience the complexities of terroir and processing techniques.

Akesson's criollo chocolate

 

Conclusion

Both CMB and The Meadow are valuable to the NYC food scene and heighten one’s experience with chocolate. Housed inside a bustling tourist attraction, CMB appeals to a wider audience, making it highly adapted to the marketplace. One can find goods that are suitable for the entire family, which relates to the store’s motto of gift-giving to share both popular and novel tastes. The Meadow caters to a smaller niche, one that requires a greater deal of knowledge. The high prices here can pose as a drawback, and had I visited The Meadow prior to taking Dr. Martin’s course, I would have had great trouble understanding the significance of “porcelana” or “single estate.” The Meadow’s selection is meticulously curated, just like the companies it represents direct great attention to their chocolate sourcing and production. The Meadow’s focus on minimal ingredients and terroir enhanced my affinity for chocolate, because I was able to apply my knowledge to various social, cultural, and ethical factors implicated by the selection. The Meadow’s greatest asset may be that it challenges traditional notions of what chocolate is and hones in on the complexities of food product transparency. By offering a more detailed rundown of production, sourcing, and cacao varieties, The Meadow works towards developing a more intimate connection of trust, reliability, and transparency between brand and consumer.

Works Cited

“About Chelsea Market.” Chelsea Market, http://www.chelseamarket.com/index.php/About/contact/about-chelsea-market. Accessed 29 April 2017.

“Akesson’s.” Cocoa Runners, https://cocoarunners.com/maker/akessons/. Accessed 3 May 2017.

Albader, Kawther. “Can you believe it’s not (cocoa) butter?”. Candy Industry, July 2012, 54-55.

Askinosie, Shawn. Direct Trade. Photograph. Askinosie Chocolate. https://www.askinosie.com/learn/direct-trade.html. Accessed 3 May 2017.

Aurier, Philippe et al. “Exploring Terroir Product Meanings For the Consumer.” Anthropology of Food, 1 May 2005.

Benton, David. “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving.” Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain, edited by Astrid Nehlig, CRC Press, 2004, 205-218.

Cacao en Chuao. Reg2bug. Wikimedia Commons. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cacao_en_Chuao.jpg. Accessed 2 May 2017.

Cahyorini, Astri, and Effy Zalfiana Rusfian. “The Effect of Packaging Design on Impulsive Buying.” Journal of Administrative Science & Organization, Jan. 2011, 11-21.

“Domori Chuao 70% Dark Chocolate.” The Meadow, https://themeadow.com/products/domori-chuao-70-dark-chocolate. Accessed 2 May 2017.

Giovannucci, Daniele, et al. Guide to Geographical Indications: Linking Products and Their Origins. International Trade Center, 2009.

Haber, Stacy, and Karen Gallus. “Effects of Dark Chocolate on Blood Pressure in Patients With Hypertension.” American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, 1 Aug. 2012, 1287-1293.

“How We Make Chocolate.” Dandelion Chocolate, https://www.dandelionchocolate.com/process/#anchor. Accessed 29 April 2017.

Linemayr, Thomas. “Establishing Premium Chocolate in the U.S. Mass Market.” The Manufacturing Confectioner, June 2011, 13-16.

“Madécasse Social Impact Report.” Madécasse LLC and Wildlife Returns, April 2017, 1-9.

Martin, Carla. “Lecture 10: Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization.” Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. 5 April 2017. Lecture.

Presilla, Maricel. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised. Ten Speed Press, 2009.

Shekhar, Suraj Kushe, and P.T Raveendran. “The Power of Sensation Transference: Chocolate Packages & Impulse Purchases.” Indian Institute of management Indore, April 2013, 55-64.

Sylla, Ndongo. The Fair Trade Scandal. Ohio University Press, 2014.

“Taza Direct Trade.” Taza Chocolate. https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/taza-direct-trade. Accessed 29 April 2017.

White, April. “The Potential and Pitfalls of Geographical Indications for Cacao.” Chocolate Class, 11 May 2016, https://chocolateclass.wordpress.com/2016/05/11/the-potential-and-pitfalls-of-geographical-indications-for-cacao/. Accessed 2 May 2017.

 

 

Hershey’s Social Responsibility: A Case Study on How the Rise of Social Media Holds Companies to a Higher Standard

The production and selling of chocolate is around a $100 billion USD per year global industry (Martin, 2017). However, while chocolate may be a big business, there have been many instances of social injustices and questionable business practices thought it’s history. Given that over half of the world’s confectionary market is completely dominated by 5 major players; Mars, Kraft, Nestle, Ferrero and Hershey, all of these companies could have a tremendous impact on efforts to rectify injustices and improve business practices (Martin, 2017). Unfortunately, historically some of these companies, Hershey for example, have not only failed to take an active social role but have actually contributed to the problem. Recently, however Hershey and other major companies have experienced a shift in their company culture and have actively invested their resources into increasing social responsibility and sustainability. This shift and changed attitude can partially be attributed to the rise of social media and the consumer’s growing awareness, investment, and involvement in how companies operate.

History of Hershey

Historically Hershey has not always utilized the most socially responsible business practices. One extremely controversial issue within the chocolate industry is the issue of sourcing. Amongst the many ethical problem that can arise in the process of sourcing cocoa is the issue of acceptable labor conditions. This particular issue has seemed to cause trouble for Hershey’s business on more than one occasion. At the turn of the 20th century it was discovered that slave labor was being used at the Cadbury cocoa farms located in São Tomé and Príncipe (Higgs, 2012). Cadbury, experienced both government and public backlash for his continued involvement within the areas, until finally in 1910 the company formally boycotted cocoa from São Tomé and Príncipe, and moved their operations to the Gold Coast in Africa (Higgs, 2012). Unfortunately, Hershey their American counterpart chose not to participate in the boycott, thereby facilitating the existing infrastructure of slave labor and allowing it to continue well in the mid-1900s (Martin, 2017). This is not the only instance of questionable cocoa sourcing during the Hershey’s history. More recently, Hershey has also received a considerable amount of unfavorable coverage based on the working conditions and the use of child labor in cocoa farms in Cote d’Ivoire specifically along the Ivory Coast (Phillips & Caldwell, 2005).

Hershey’s Shifting Values and Increased Social Responsibility

Although Hershey has had a history of questionable and controversial business practices, the company is now contributing to efforts to rectify social injustices and improve working conditions within the chocolate industry, by increasing their own social responsibility. In 2014, the company also released their first corporate social responsibility report in attempt to increase transparency and accountability, stating that they wanted to “reimagined [their] corporate brand, with a clean, modern identity.”

This video highlights some of the initiative that Hershey has taken on  in order to improve their social responsibility. Some of the accomplishment that they highlight are helping cocoa farmers increase their productivity, reducing waste and water use to increase environmental sustainability, and investing in children and their future. They specifically mention how they are supporting a cause in Ghana known as Project Peanut butter as well as how they have built a school on the Ivory coast and are investing in education at home in the United States.

The Role of Social Media

This increase in social responsibility from not only Hershey, but also other major companies, can be attributed in large part to the rise of social media and the growing awareness and interest of the consumer. Snider, Hill, and Martin (2003) discuss how the internet has given the public access to certain information and has reduced companies’ ability to act as gatekeepers of information to their stakeholders. As a result of this vast expansion of information accessibility, consumers are now more concerned than ever that the companies they are buying from and supporting are not only producing high quality product, but also doing it in a way that is ethically sound. In fact a study conducted by Maignan and Ralston (2002) revealed that one of the main reasons that companies listed for committing to socially responsible behavior was pressure from stakeholders, notably consumers, to behave in socially responsible ways (Campbell, 2007). With the introduction of social media, consumers have a new tool to apply this social pressure with. They are now able to give immediate and very public feedback when their standards for product quality and social responsibility are not being met and companies are responding accordingly.

These tweets are examples of how social media, in this case specifically twitter, has increased the accountability of Hershey. The tweets range from being about issues of quality, to product innovations/requests, to issues about ethical business practice. Despite the wide range of topics that are covered in tweets @ Hershey, Hershey makes a point of responding to every one. This illustrates just how important and powerful social media feedback can be.

One example of social media having a extremely significant and immediate impact on a company’s business is the recent Kendall Jenner Pepsi Commercial fiasco.

Pepsi aired this commercial featuring Kendall Jenner in early April of this year. The video was immediately met with criticism and public outrage on social media about the video being appropriative and tone-deaf, by using serious political issues to sell soda.

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Many people complained that it trivialized decades of protests against police brutality, as well as trivializing the black lives matter movement, specifically because of the image towards the end of the commercial of Kendall Jenner handing the police officer a can of Pepsi, which many compared to the now famous image captured of Ieshia Evans at a protest moments before her arrest. This tweet, shown above is just one of many tweets complaining about the lack of social awareness that was displayed in this ad.

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One particularly notable tweet came from Bernice King, Martin Luther King’s daughter. She too found the pepsi commercial to be appropriative and trivializing of the hardship and struggle that her father faced in the fight for civil rights.

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Within 24 hours, due to the public uproar and continued outrage expressed over social media Pepsi pulled the ad, which probably cost millions to produce and issued a public statement, which they shared across multiple platforms of social media, apologizing for “missing the mark.” While Hershey has never faced social media back lash of this magnitude, the pepsi example clearly illustrates what a huge and swift impact social media and public response can have on how companies conduct their business and represent themselves.

Is it all Enough? Hershey’s Lack of Transparency

Although it is evident that social media has the potential to hold companies accountable and enact tangible change, it may not have a broad enough reach to completely revolutionize the chocolate industry and all of the social injustices occurring within the business just yet. True, Hershey seems to have taken great strides in increasing their company’s social responsibility and investing their resources into making sure that they are improving working conditions and making the world a better place. But, are they really doing enough? One thing that I did find disheartening was the underwhelming amount of company transparency and lack of emphasis on their work in social responsibility on their website.

The images above are all screen shots from different company homepage, In the upper left corner, you will see a screenshot from Hershey’s homepage, in the lower left hand corner is a screen shot of Mars’ homepage and the upper and lower righthand images are screenshots of Nestle’s company homepage.

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Zooming onto the main menu of Hershey’s page, you can see that they don’t have any type of link to learn more about their social responsibility. At first I wanted to give Hershey the benefit of the doubt, so I clicked on their link to learn more about their story, to see if there was any mention of social responsibility on that page. I also clicked on their option to learn more about simple ingredients to see if while they were talking about their simple ingredients they also mentioned how they were ethically sourcing them.

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What I found was slightly disappointing, these are screen shots from the “Our Story” page (left) and the “Simple Ingredients” page (right). As you can see from the images, the informations is very heavily geared towards the wants and benefits of the consumer and doesn’t really make any effort to talk about socially responsibility at all. It seems like their only concern, at least as it is portrayed on their main website, is their responsibility to their consumer. In fact it was so difficult for me to find any mention of community involvement or social initiatives on their main website that in order to find out more about Hershey’s social responsibility initiatives, I actually had to specifically google “Hershey social responsibility” in order to find anything at all.

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In contrast, when you zoom onto the main menu options of the Mars and Nestle home-pages, you can see that right away there are options to learn about “Nestle in society” or how Mars is “Doing Our Part”. Once you visit their actual pages you can tell that both companies have taken great lengths to advertise their altruistic efforts and initiatives, and make their practices transparent and easily accessible. In fact their social responsibility and the initiatives that they are taking to make the world a better place are not only mentioned on these specific links, they are also integrated into their “About us” and “Who We Are” pages.

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The images above are screenshots from Nestle’s “About us” page (top image) and Mar’s “Who we are” page (bottom image). As you can see, both  Nestle and Mars have not only taken on missions to making the world a better place, but have integrated those missions into their core values and made them central to the overall goals of the company.

It seems to me like Hershey is unfortunately lagging behind their competitors in corporate transpanrency and committing to socially responsible initiatives and activism. An article by Newman, O’Connell and Exchange (2010) seems to indicate that this lack of transparency from Hershey is not only purposeful, but also indicative of socially irresponsible business behaviors specifically in reference to their sourcing practices. Newman, O’Connell and Exchange (2010) claim that despite almost ten years of commitments from Hershey to take responsibility for their cocoa supply chains and improve conditions for workers, significant problems such as, abusive child labor, trafficking, and forced labor continue to persist.

So, why is there such a difference between the seeming efforts of Hershey and its competitors? One thing that I think is interesting to note is the fact that both Mars and Nestle have expanded their businesses into other consumer packaged goods, from frozen foods, to beverages, to even pet care, while Hershey has really stayed with in the confectionary niche. Is there something about the confectionary market that allows for companies to escape harsh and intensive public scrutiny and thereby requires less social responsibilty? These are essential and pressing questions that we must figure out if we want to really push for social responsibility from all companies. We have seen the power of social media and have examples like Pepsi to prove that businesses will make major changes to their company’s culture, structure and operating environment, when there is enough social outcry for them to do so.  Admittedly, the issue of cocoa sourcing may not be as sexy, thrilling, or star studded as the issue of Kendall Jenner’s pepsi commercial, but we need to find a way to bring the indiscretions of companies like Hershey to the forefront of the publics attention in order to get the conversation trending and really push for tangible change.

Works Cited

Campbell, J. L. (2007). Why would corporations behave in socially responsible ways? An institutional theory of corporate social responsibility. Academy of management Review, 32(3), 946-967.

Higgs, C. (2012). Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. Ohio University Press.

Martin, C. (2017, February 1). Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food: Mesoamerica and “the food of the gods” [Lecture]. Cambridge, MA.

Martin, C. (2017, March 1). Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food: Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor [Lecture]. Cambridge, MA.

Newman, T., O’Connell, E., & Exchange, G. (2010). Time to Raise the Bar: The Real Corporate Social Responsibility Report for the Hershey Company.

Phillips, R., & Caldwell, C. B. (2005). Value chain responsibility: A farewell to arm’s length. Business and Society Review, 110(4), 345-370.

Snider, J., Hill, R. P., & Martin, D. (2003). Corporate social responsibility in the 21st century: A view from the world’s most successful firms. Journal of Business ethics, 48(2), 175-187.

Media Cited

“Responsibility.” Corporate. Hershey, n.d. Web. 05 May 2017. https://www.thehersheycompany.com/en_us/responsibility.html

Account, HERSHEY’SVerified. “Tweets with Replies by HERSHEY’S (@Hersheys).” Twitter. Twitter, 05 May 2017. Web. 05 May 2017.

KendallnKylie. “Kendall Jenner for PEPSI Commercial.” YouTube. YouTube, 04 Apr. 2017. Web. 05 May 2017.

Maya. “The Best Example of White and Economic Privilege/ Ignorance I’ve Ever Seen. Never Forget Ieshia Evans. #Pepsi Pic.twitter.com/lXeTp7OBMj.” Twitter. Twitter, 04 Apr. 2017. Web. 05 May 2017.

Account, Be A KingVerified. “Media Tweets by Be A King (@BerniceKing).” Twitter. Twitter, 05 May 2017. Web. 05 May 2017.

“Pepsi Statement Re: Pepsi Moments Content.” PepsiCo. N.p., 5 Apr. 2017. Web. 05 May 2017.

Null. “Home.” Franchise. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 May 2017.

Nestle.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 May 2017.

“Mars, Incorporated – Global Petcare, Chocolate, Food, Candy, and Drink Brands.” Mars, Incorporated. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 May 2017.

Hello Cocoa

http://www.hellococoachocolate.com/

Intro

When we think of chocolate in America we often think about a bag of M&M’s or a Snickers bar or a Kit-Kat. Regardless of the specific image it probably makes your mouth salivate thinking about the sugary, chocolate taste we all have come to love. What we don’t think about when we hear the word chocolate are terms such as slavery, child labor, certification or transparency. Chocolate industry analysts predict the global chocolate market will experience annual sales of $98.3 billion by 2016, the result of an annual growth rate approaching 3 percent. The chocolate market is large and rapidly growing but it has also dealt with growing concerns regarding ethical issues in the cacao-chocolate supply chain. Large chocolate corporations are in an arms race with one another to break into emerging markets and produce more efficiently that they are often more concerned with profits than certain ethical issues.

The company Hello Cocoa is a small-batch bean to bar company based in Fayetteville, Arkansas that pride themselves on “connecting people with flavors and cultures around the world.” (8) As they say on their website, “through ethical and direct trade, we strive to create relationships with locals and friends abroad to create an excellent chocolate experience, all in effort to cultivate community around chocolate.” (8) Hello Cocoa is a socially conscious company that combats many of the issues facing large chocolate corporations today. This essay will provide an ethnographic analysis of Hello Cocoa and explain why they are part of the solution to changing the cacao-chocolate supply chain.

 

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Figure 1. The home page of Hello Cocoa’s website

Exploitation

The most publicized issue in the cacao-chocolate supply chain is the prevalence of child labor. Chocolate is a product of the cacao bean, which grows primarily in Western Africa, Asia and Latin America. In recent years, organizations have begun to expose the widespread use of child labor on cocoa farms in West Africa that supply to some of the industries largest companies such as Hershey’s, Mars and Nestle. In response to this finding, the industry has become incredibly secretive, making it difficult for journalists to access farms that exploit child labor and thus difficult to disseminate information to the public. To put things in perspective, 60% of the Ivory Coast’s export revenue comes from the cacao industry, however, the average cacao farmer earns less than $2 a day. In order to keep prices competitive they often resort to the use of child labor.

There are several obvious issues with child labor such as the long, intensive hours spent on a cacao farm and the day-to-day hazards of working with dangerous tools such as a machete. Above all else though is the deprivation of the rights of the children themselves that violate the International Labor Organizations Child Labor Standards. 40% of child laborers in the Ivory Coast do not attend school. Depriving children of an education is unjust but it also robs them of any hope of breaking the cycle of poverty. The industry has begun to eliminate what the ILO calls the ‘worst forms of child labor’, but they still have a long way to go to create any substantial change. The real transformation will occur when chocolate companies take it upon themselves to not tolerate child labor and refuse to buy beans that were the product of human rights violations.

Hello Cocoa is one company that is ahead of the curve on these issues. They write in their mission statement, “We are passionate about travel and meeting people; this is an essential foundation of the Hello Cocoa experience and was the original inspiration of our company. We want to introduce our fans and chocolate-lovers to friends, lifestyles, cultures & landscapes around the world. And it all starts with a simple greeting, hello.” (8) Since they prioritize human relationships and human connections so highly, they have absolutely no tolerance for farmers that use forced child labor. The mission statement of Hello Cocoa says everything you need to know about the direction this company intends to go. What if we could do a bit of good in the world one chocolate bar at a time? In an industry that is increasingly focused on turning a profit, Hello Cocoa is a leader in ethics and moral sustainability.

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Figure 2. A member of the Hello Cocoa team with farmers in Africa because real face-to-face interaction between the company and the farmers is a cornerstone of their company.

 

Fair Trade

Another topic that is widely debated in the chocolate industry has to do with fair trade. Fair trade is a certification process that helps farmers in developing countries build sustainable businesses that positively influence their communities. The Fair Trade USA website claims, “Our rigorous social, environmental and economic standards work to promote safe, healthy working conditions, protect the environment, enable transparency, and empower communities to build strong, thriving businesses.” (7) Any company that is fair trade certified is mandated to comply with the following rules:

  • No child labor (forced or otherwise exploited)
  • No workplace discrimination (gender equity and freedom of association)
  • Regulations on product ingredients
  • Safe working conditions and reasonable work hours
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Traceability and transparency

There is no denying that the intention of Fair Trade organizations is to eradicate issues that trouble the chocolate industry, however, there have been a number of critiques questioning its effectiveness.

Critics of fair trade say that it hurts poor, non-certified farmers whereas it helps rich farmers. This is because the cost of being certified is very high and thus many small farms cannot afford to apply for the certification process even if they are abiding by the fair trade regulations. This means that a chocolate bar you buy at your local grocery store that is not fair trade certified could actually be produced in the same way as chocolate that is fair trade certified. This is harmful to small farms because retailers are willing to pay more for fair trade beans then for regular cacao beans. Further critiques say that the regulations and inspections done by fair trade committees are rather lenient and occasionally allow non fair trade ingredients in fair trade products.

Hello Cacao combats this fair trade issue by engaging in direct trade. “Direct trade is a form of sourcing practiced by some coffee roasters and chocolate companies, referring to direct sourcing from farmers, with standards varying between producers.” (9) Direct trade does a better job of promoting direct communication and price negotiation between buyer and farmer without having to deal with an intermediary. It is typically a more transparent process that places greater emphasis on the quality of production. Their website says, “By doing business with cacao distributors that uphold ethical and sustainable standards, we impart dignity to (or empower) cacao farmers. And when we engage in direct trade, we strive to empower farmers by paying a fair wage directly to the farmer, while also seeking to establish a long-term relationship from which both of us benefit.” (8) Hello Cacao also uses no preservatives, non-GMO pure cane sugar and organic cacao beans to ensure high quality chocolate.

Figure 3. This is the fair trade certification logo.

 

Conclusion

The first step that must be taken in order to eradicate these issues and reward companies such as Hello Cocoa who conduct their business responsibly has to do with transparency. As has been discussed in this essay the deception and covering up of illegal activity is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with by implementing punishments. In order to hold companies responsible for their actions, regulations have to be put in place that mandate the release of information to the public. Customers have the right to know what they are purchasing and the right to educate themselves. The majority of consumers would not purchase chocolate if they knew it was produced illegally or unethically, however, the majority of consumers today are in the dark regarding many of these issues. Hello Cocoa is one of the rare companies that relishes transparency because they have nothing to hide. Attached to this essay is a video found on their website that details the complete bean-to-bar process of making chocolate. They also outline whom they purchase their beans from and the relationships they maintain with each group of farmers. This is obviously easier to do since they are a small company but they have made it a priority in their business model to place greater importance on ethical chocolate production and that is why other companies in the industry should look to emulate them.

 

Works Cited

  1. World Cocoa Foundation. March 2012. “Cocoa Market Update.” http://worldcocoafoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/Cocoa-Market-Update-as-of-3.20.2012.pdf. (2/27/14)
  2. Payson Center for International Development and Technology Transfer.  March 31, 2011. “Oversight of Public and Private Initiatives to Eliminate Worst Forms of Child Labor in the Cocoa Sector in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.” Tulane University. http://issuu.com/stevebutton
  3. BBC. March 24, 2010. “Tracing the bitter truth of chocolate and child labour.” http://news.bbc.co.uk/panorama/hi/front_page/newsid_8583000/8583499.stm. (3/01/14)
  4. Sackett, Marjie. “Forced Child Labor and Cocoa Production in West Africa.” Human Rights & Human Welfare (2008). https://www.du.edu/korbel/hrhw/researchdigest/slavery/africa.pdf. (3/01/14)
  5. Kramer, Anna. March 6, 2013. “Women and the big business of chocolate.” Oxfam America. http://www.oxfamamerica.org/explore/stories/women-and-the-big-business-of-chocolate/. (3/04/14)
  6. Grossman-Greene, Sarah, and Bayer, Chris. 2009. “A History of Child Labor, Child Rights, and the Harkin-Engel Protocol.” Tulane University. http://www.childlabor-payson.org/meetings/Ghana_Consultative_Meeting_2010/Documents
  7. Fair Trade USA.” What Is Fair Trade? Fair Trade USA, n.d. Web. 02 May 2016.
  8. “Our Mission.” Hello Cocoa. Hello Cocoa, n.d. Web. 03 May 2016.
  9. Martin, C. (04/06/16). Alternative trade and virtuous localization/globalization. (Powerpoint Slides). Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B_kGt6Sj1X5bYUY0UWg0Y1h2TTA&usp=sharing

 

What’s Fair About Fair Trade?

The cocoa industry has been plagued by issues of forced labor since its inception, and while awareness surrounding these issues have begun to come to light, the seriousness and effectiveness of action is often undercut by marketing campaigns that make vague promises of fair trade and improved living conditions. The advertisement above, for example, produced by Fair Trade Certified, suggests that buying Fair Trade Certified labeled products contributes to the building of infrastructure, community, and better agricultural standards in certain products’s countries of origins. When consumers buy coffee, chocolate, or sugar with this label, there is the implication that guilt associated with these commodities can be assuaged. However, this implication holds little or no merit, and it is unclear how a daily cup of coffee, gift of chocolate, or spoonful of raw cane sugar is exactly contributing to the betterment of lives abroad. What percentage of the surcharge for these products is going directly to farmers? How are these funds allocated and distributed? What are the standards for fair trade and can these standards be quantified? Are they being enforced? Advertisements like this leave many questions unanswered in their vague claims. The real aim of this marketing strategy is arguably the commodification of poverty and selling the experience of helping those in need. The advertisement ends with a slogan stating, “Every purchase matters. Look for the label. Buy Fair Trade. Do more good.” The fair trade movement would benefit greatly from an approach that moves away from the cultivation of a savior complex through the purchase of goods and, instead, focus on transparent communication of how surcharges are calculated and used. The “feel good” approach engenders false consumer empowerment and perpetuates the mystification of how products are produced and where consumer money is being allocated.

Transparency has been a buzzword in consumer goods and marketing in recent years and can also be problematic at times, especially as companies navigate their markets and legality of labeling and disclosure. Kevin Goldberg, Nestlé Nutrition’s general counsel, in an interview, stated that the new challenge “will be to effectively demonstrate how committed we are to all of those concerns. The issues will remain the same, but the bars for all of them will definitely be raised even higher than they are today” [1]. Demonstration of commitment has thus far been awareness focused and vague in terms of resolution. Nestle’s Cocoa Plan, a major initiative aimed at improving the livelihood of cacao farmers, chronicles many of the underlying factors that contribute to child labor and provides a clearer picture of the company’s strategies to mitigate child labor practices through a series of statistics. While helpful in communicating the company’s larger goals, it is difficult to draw a connection between the consumer, the products they buy, and this transaction’s impact on affected communities.

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While not connected to the cocoa industry, Everlane, a clothing company, deals with similar issues tied to apparel, and has reacted with “radical transparency.” Their company slogan in ”Know your factories. Know your costs. Always ask why.” This attitude is manifested in infographics about their products that break down the raw costs of production and reveal profit margins. The numbers are quite simple and do not speak to the myriad of factors that contribute to forced labor, but they provide a straightforward explanation of where consumer dollars go. Taza Chocolate’s Direct Trade initiative similarly pushes for transparency, but at the scale of the company’s operation as opposed to the scale of the consumer. Capitalizing on the potentials of empowerment for the consumer through transparency can be very effective if information is also disclosed at the scale of every purchase. Companies and certification processes that have gotten by with lax standards would be further and rightly scrutinized by a more informed customer base. As Goldberg states, “The new empowered consumer environment has certainly helped our already high standards evolve to become even more stringent” [2]. The re-imagined advertisement above breaks down the cost of a single, well sourced, chocolate bar in the fashion of Everlane’s marketing strategy. These numbers, while still abstract, begin to illustrate the inner workings of the cocoa industry in more neutral terms. Emotional campaigns are detached from these graphics, allowing consumers to consider what is fair in terms of their dollars and where they go and demystifying the relationship between goods bought and the labor that made it possible. By maintaining transparency in pricing, it may lead to stabilization in the volatility of the market for primary goods [3] as the siphoning of profit margins by middlemen are brought to light.

[1] Silver, Jeff. “Nestle Prioritizes Transparency in Advertising.” Modern Counsel. Accessed April 08, 2016. http://modern-counsel.com/2016/kevin-goldberg/.

[2] ibid.

[3] Sylla, Ndongo Samba, and David Clement Leye. The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich. 2014.