Tag Archives: USDA Organic

Taza Chocolate: A Step in the Right Direction, but Still Room for Improvement

As you have probably discovered when looking through the chocolate display in various retail and grocery stores, five large players dominate the global chocolate market. Their prevalence allows them to dictate the rhetoric and information synthesized by chocolate consumers on a daily basis. However, the industry is fraught with serious issues that these companies are not taking drastic enough steps to solve. Instead, we must look to other companies, although less well known and smaller-scale, that are forging innovative paths to solve these very real problems, in order to learn from them but also recognize where there is room for improvement. One such company is Taza Chocolate. 

 Taza Chocolate is a bean to bar chocolate company based in Somerville, Massachusetts. It was founded in 2005 by CEO Alex Whitmore, who was inspired by the stone ground chocolate he had tasted on a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico. He apprenticed under a molinero in Oaxaca in order to learn how to make and work with traditional Mexican stone mills. The result of these unique mills and minimal processing is chocolate with bolder flavors and a grittier consistency than the smoothness that is usually expected from more mainstream companies. 

Summary of the Taza Chocolate production process

Taza chocolate can be bought online through its website or at Amazon and can be found at retailers such as Whole Foods. According to the Taza Website, “We do things differently. We do things better. We are chocolate pioneers” (Taza Website: Direct Trade). They are pioneers not just because of their unique production process and flavor, but also because of their commitment to addressing the problems that plague the industry today through supply-chain transparency. 

Problems: Slavery, Economics and Gender Inequality

In order to critically analyze Taza’s attempted solutions, it is important to first understand the problems, which unfortunately are not new but rather have plagued the industry for centuries. Slavery was an integral part of chocolate’s history, and can be traced back to the 1500’s when the Spanish Encomienda system forced natives in Mesoamerica to grow cocoa and perform labor without pay. The terrible working conditions and disease spread by the Spaniards ravished the native population, and Africans were brought in to replace them. From 1500-1900, between 10 and 15 million enslaved Africans were transported to the Americas and the Caribbean to grow cocoa and other commodity crops. However, even after slavery was abolished, it continued and continues to plague the industry today, mostly in the form of child labor. The International Labour Organization defines child labor as, “all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery… work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children” (ILO). Carol Off found evidence of such child labor in Cote D’Ivoire, with some farmers or their supervisors “working… young people almost to death. The boys had little to eat, slept in bunkhouses that were locked during the night, and were frequently beaten” (Off, 121). A 2009 study by Tulane corroborated Off’s discoveries when it found that more than half a million children in Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire were working in conditions that violated ILO guidelines as well as national laws on minimum wage and minimum hours (Berlan).

Another prevalent problem is the poverty that many cocoa farmers face, particularly in Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire, due to the economics of cocoa farming. Unlike many northern countries where jobs are salaried, wages for day laborers on farms are “neither guaranteed nor generally regulated” (Leissle, 106). Farm owners only receive cash when they sell their crop; thus, they earn 80% of their annual income in the six months of the main growing season, making budgeting for the rest of the year extremely difficult, especially because many inputs are needed at the start of the growing season when farmers are the lowest on cash. This can result in farmers having to take loans or credit, which often have incredibly high interest rates and can be impossible to pay back. The price fluctuations of chocolate also make it difficult to budget, as anything from bad weather to political turmoil can drastically affect chocolate’s price. Lastly, the prices farmers receive are often too low to support their costs. Farmers rarely sell their product directly to the big chocolate companies, instead selling to middlemen who have more negotiating power and can mislead them. Therefore, even if the price paid for chocolate goes up, there is no guarantee that the farmers actually receive this increase.  As a result of all of these factors, many farmers struggle to make a living.

Finally, gender inequality is an important problem that is often disregarded, in part because literature has minimized the role of women in chocolate production. Women are thought of as having only light and non-essential tasks, when in reality “female labor play[s] a central role in almost every aspect of cocoa production and sale… statistics undoubtedly underestimate the role of women” (Robertson, 100/104). But the industry is male-dominant, which has negative effects on women. For example, social norms dictate that even if women grow the cocoa, men are the ones that actually sell the crop and receive the cash (Leissle, 122). This means not only that women have no proof they are getting the right amount of money, but also that men of the household have control of the cash, which they often use to pay for needs they find most important before distributing the rest, if any, to women and children. Consequently, even though women contribute greatly to chocolate production, they have very little power. 

Taza’s Solution: Direct Trade Model

In order to combat some of these issues, according to Taza it developed, “The first third-party certified direct trade cacao sourcing program, to ensure quality and transparency for all.” (Taza Website: Direct Trade). Because it is the first of its kind, Taza published five guidelines and commitments for its direct trade system that it holds itself accountable to. 

  1. Develop direct relationships with cacao farmers:  Taza began by purchasing cocoa from La Red Guaconejo cooperative in the Dominican Republic and shipping it directly to Boston so that there were no middlemen involved. This direct method shrinks, “a commodity chain that is often far-flung, [so that] no step of the trade exchange, from farm to factory, was unknown or untraceable to Taza’s founders” (Leissle, 154). They later expanded their sources to include other producers in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Ghana, all of which they have personal relationships with. Their single origin bars reflect and appreciate the uniqueness of each location. 
  2. Pay a price premium to cacao producers: Taza commits to paying at least $500 per MT above market price for its beans
  3. Source the highest quality cacao beans: Taza emphasizes fine flavor beans rather than bulk beans, and directs resources over the long term to assist producers in maintaining high quality output 
  4. Require USDA certified organic cacao: As part of its commitment to source only the best cocoa, Taza requires its producers to be organic certified. 
  5. Publish an annual transparency report: Taza was the first chocolate company ever to publish such a report. It includes the quantity of beans bought from each individual producer, the price Taza pays for these beans, and an intimate look at the individual producers they partner with. 
Overview of Taza’s Direct Trade Program in 2018

Pros of Taza’s Direct Trade Model

Taza’s direct trade model has improved the economics of farmers while simultaneously promoting transparency in the industry. In paying a large premium (15-20%), Taza ensures that the farmers do not have to worry about not being able to earn enough to survive fluctuations in cocoa price that are entirely outside of their control. This gives farmers much-needed predictability and visibility into future income and improves their standard of living. Furthermore, by publishing the exact prices they buy the seeds at and having all of their numbers and reports independently verified each year by the Quality Certification Services, Taza guarantees integrity and transparency. This is a stark contrast to the rest of the industry; many companies in recent years have introduced “even more ambiguity into the landscapes of its practice” by relying on internal certification and accountability schemes (Leissle, 147). For example, Cadbury recently stopped fair trade certification and instead initiated an in-house sustainability guarantee, which has decreased transparency because, “when a certification scheme is internal to a company, it is more difficult to assess whether they are rigorous and consistently applied. The only option is to take the company’s words that they are” (Leissle, 147-148). The same can be said for craft chocolate companies, who claim to pay several times the world market price for cocoa, yet there is no way for the consumer to verify. In publishing its prices, Taza has set a new standard for the industry, and others, such as Dandelion Chocolate, are following suit.

 Taza’s production process also allows for stronger relationships with producers and greater visibility into the company’s supply chain, ensuring no child labor is used to produce its products. In interacting directly with each of their producers, and visiting at least once a year, Taza can guarantee the use of fair labor. Furthermore, in Ghana, where, as discussed earlier, child labor is especially prevalent, Taza has invested in education programs for children and their family. For example, the local producers Taza partners with coordinate workshops in local schools for students and parents to “educate around age-appropriate farm activities… versus dangerous ones” (2018 transparency report). Additionally, Taza has patterned with the non-profit International Cocoa Initiative and its buyer Tony’s Chocolonely, to “proactively address any instances of unsafe work through a combination of family resources and training that rewards transparency and addresses core issues of poverty and lack of education” (2018 transparency report). 

Finally, Taza’s single origin bars promote consumer awareness about the countries where it sources its chocolate. Each bar, according to the website, “is minimally processed to let the bold flavors and unique terroir of our Direct Trade Certified beans shout loud and proud”  (Taza website: Origin Bars). 

Taza’s single origin chocolate bars

By indicating where the chocolate is grown, these single origin bars can help consumers learn that the taste of chocolate differs from place to place, and “invite shoppers to consider the politics and economics of exporting cocoa… By offering a range of chocolate experiences that can change even day by day, single origin chocolate reminds us that there are real people, institutions, and power structures behind every bar” (Leissle, 170). A more informed consumer is likely to make more informed decisions in the future, which can help promote sustainable, ethical chocolate production by creating demand for such products. 

How Taza can Improve

Although the Taza model has many strengths, there are areas where it is still lacking. For example, the prices listed in the transparency reports indicate the amount paid per metric ton to producer organizations, but they do not indicate the farm gate price, or how much the individual farmer receives. The farm gate price is distinctive from the price paid to the producers, but by not including both, the reports can mislead the consumer into thinking the listed price is entirely received by the farmers. In only one year, 2016, Taza reported the price that was actually received by farmers, which ranged from 51-76% of the price that was received by producer organizations (2016 transparency report). However, no other transparency report published these numbers, and this percentage could have changed substantially in the years since, especially because a few of the producer organizations they work with have changed. While Taza is exemplary in its transparency, there is room to be even more transparent by consistently publishing the farm gate price in its reports. 

Additionally, even though gender inequality is an important problem in cocoa production, Taza does not explicitly address it in its transparency reports. Photos of women farmers have been featured in some of the past reports, and the number of women farmers is included in each report (ranging from 15% to 45% of each producer organization). These inclusions are important in disproving the misconception that women are not involved in cocoa production. However, there is no reference to the struggles women face due to the power dynamics of the industry. Taza had the opportunity to do so in its 2018 report, when it mentions that its partner in El Majagual, Dominican Republic donated his chocolate factory to an association of local women. However, they do not even name the women’s association or delve into what it does, and it seems as though the sale was a decision made independently by the producer with no help or influence from Taza. This is an area where Taza can really improve and learn from organizations such as Kuapa Kokoo, a Ghana based company that sets gender quotas for elected representation at the community and district levels of governance and organizes conscious-raising women’s groups and women’s literacy programs (Leissle, 149). An essential next step for Taza is to acknowledge the unequal distribution of power and wealth due to gender, because according to field work and research by Kristy Leissle and Stephanie Barrientos , “Apart from explicit, well-directed efforts to empower women, most assistance…[goes] directly or indirectly to men” (Leissle, 173). 

Conclusion

In summary, Taza Chocolate is changing the way chocolate is sourced, produced and consumed. In addressing the economic problems farmers face, ensuring its producers do not use forced labor, and investing in programs that combat child labor, Taza is making a positive impact on cocoa production. However, there are many areas where Taza can still learn and grow— the transparency reports would be greatly improved if they included farm gate prices, and just as the company has invested in programs to fight against child labor, it should invest in programs that are actively looking to support women.  That being said, Taza’s direct trade program is truly innovative, and its transparency reports are challenging other companies to improve their own practices. Although the direct trade model is not feasible for the larger scale companies that dominate the industry, consumers must demand the same level of commitment to ethical production that Taza demonstrates.  

Works Cited

Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana.” Journal of Development Studies, vol. 49, no. 8, 2013, pp. 1088–1100. 

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018. 

Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of The World’s Most Seductive Sweet. The New Press, 2006.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: a Social and Cultural History. Manchester University Press, 2013.

https://www.ilo.org/global/standards/subjects-covered-by-international-labour-standards/child-labour/lang–en/index.htm

https://www.tazachocolate.com

https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/2016-transparency-report

https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/2018-transparency-report

Images Cited

https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0974/7668/files/Taza_Chocolate_Making_Process.pdf?10043542871181577895

https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/taza-direct-trade

http://www.tazachocolate.com/collections/bars

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.

Is Certified Chocolate Better Chocolate?

Chocolate is a delicious treat, but for the farmers who grow cacao, life is not so sweet. Cacao farmers inhabit some of the world’s poorest regions and earn small, irregular wages. When Carol Off visited a farming community in Côte d’Ivoire, she found that the cacao laborers lacked access to basic services including education and medical care (Off, 6). Additionally, the cacao farmers faced highly variable pricing and high taxation levels (Off, 6). These conditions severely hinder economic development and allow poverty to persist among farm workers. Because these problems are so prevalent, several organizations have risen to promote more fair business practices. These groups certify producers who follow a strict set of policies throughout their production process. This paper focuses on three groups in particular: Fair Trade, Direct Trade, and USDA Organic. Carla Martin’s course “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food” discusses the benefits of these various certifications as well as their flaws. Among the many critiques of these certifications is their failure to ensure a higher quality product and to gain traction among American consumers. To test these weaknesses, I decided to perform an informational chocolate tasting to gauge Harvard students’ understanding of these certifications and to ascertain whether certified products were of a higher quality.

image locating cote divoire
Côte d’Ivoire: The world leader in cacao farming. 

Brief Summary of Certifications

According to Fair Trade’s mission statement, the organization seeks to empower farmers by using a market-based approach to improve wages and working conditions for farmers and laborers. Additionally, Fair Trade seeks to strengthen local economies while simultaneously protecting the local environment (Fair Trade). Ndongo Samba Sylla argues in her book The Fair Trade Scandal that while Fair Trade is an organization with good intentions, the organization often falls short of its aims. Among Sylla’s complaints is the lack of money actually reaching certified producers. Fair Trade products charge a premium, but only minimal amounts of this increased price actually reach the farmers (233). Thus, Fair Trade’s impact on poor farmers is negligible. Similar sentiments are echoed in “The Fair Trade Shell Game” which suggests that Fair Trade hurts non-certified farmers and offers no real quality guarantee (Markham Nolan, Dusan Sekulovic, and Sara Rao). With these and many other problems, it seems that Fair Trade, while commendable in its aims, fails to truly benefit producers and can also mislead consumers.

The USDA Organic website suggests that the intent of this certification is to promote healthier and safer agricultural practices for producing the crops (USDA). While their efforts to promote better environmental and health practices are admirable, this strategy fails to account for social issues. Julie Guthman notes that if certified organic products focus intensely on the materials used during the production process, the labor practices should also be scrutinized (507). Evaluating the USDA’s various certification levels also reveals the potential for great disparity among certified products (USDA). In addition to these concerns, it has been suggested that organic standards have declined over time and that certification provides a false assurance of quality (Martin). With these critiques, it is important to understand that organic products may not be as beneficial as they are often portrayed.

Finally, Direct Trade is intended to serve as an alternative to Fair Trade. According to Taza, Direct Trade implies a rejection of unfair labor practices and unfair wages. Direct interaction with cacao growers is intended to ensure better treatment of farmers and a higher quality product (Taza). As can be seen with Taza, however, these relationships often rely on small chocolate makers which can lead to potential problems in stability and quantities being purchased (Martin). Nonetheless, Direct Trade may prove to be an effective means of combating unfair treatment of cacao growers.

The logos for the certifications appear below. Direct Trade’s logo was unavailable under Creative Commons.

The Chocolate

Sample 1: Hershey’s Special Dark (45% cacao; $0.59/oz.; no certifications)

The first sample in the tasting was a Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate bar. While only 45% cacao, significantly below the other chocolates in percentage, this bar was selected to serve as the typical dark chocolate bar that could be found in American households. For its prevalence, it was selected as the first sample in the tasting in order to establish a comparison point for the other chocolates.

Sample 2: Lake Champlain Dark Chocolate (72% cacao; $2.00/oz.; 100% Fair Trade, USDA Organic)

The second sample, a dark chocolate bar from Lake Champlain, was selected to fill the role of the Fair Trade certified bar, although it was also certified organic. At 72% it was close to the 70% cacao I was targeting in the study. Every ingredient in the bar was reported to be organic and Fair Trade certified.

Sample 3: Taza Cacao Puro (70% cacao; $2.04/oz.; Direct Trade, USDA Organic)

Taza is known for its small, dedicated chocolate making team. Participating in the Direct Trade initiative, Taza claims to work with cacao farmers to ensure that they are selecting the best cacao possible and purchasing it at a fair price. The chocolate selected was 70% cacao, perfectly at my target percentage. The chocolate disc was also certified organic.

Sample 4: Ghirardelli Intense Dark (72% cacao; $0.85/oz.; no certifications)

Ghirardelli’s Intense Dark bar was selected as a good quality non-certified bar to challenge the quality assumptions that the tasters might have about certified and non-certified bars. At 72%, it fell within my target range. With its general perception of higher quality, it seemed an excellent choice to challenge the craft producers in the tasting.

Sample 5: Lindt Smooth Dark (70% cacao; $0.85/oz.; no certifications)

The Lindt chocolate was selected as another good quality non-certified chocolate bar. This bar matched the 70% cacao chocolate without receiving any certifications.

Sample 6: Dick Taylor Northerner Blend (73% cacao; $3.98/oz.; organic*)

The Dick Taylor bar carried a similar cacao percentage to the other bars in the study. While the bar does not bear the USDA Organic symbol, it advertises its ingredients as organic. According to the USDA website “You may only, on the information panel, identify the certified organic ingredients as organic and the percentage of organic ingredients.” With the bar using only certified organic ingredients, I considered this bar to be certified organic though some may disagree with this assessment. This bar is not Fair Trade or Direct Trade and so was used to capture the impact of using only organic materials without the effects of other certifications.

20170504_192908
Certified Samples-Personal Photo

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Non-Certified Samples-Personal Photo

 

The Process

Five of my friends, who were not involved with Martin’s course, generously volunteered to participate in the tasting. Before providing them with any chocolate, I gave them a brief questionnaire about the three certifications. For each certification, I asked them if they were familiar with it and how they interpreted it. Across all five participants, the only certification that was familiar to the tasters was USDA Organic. None of the tasters were familiar with Fair Trade or Direct Trade. Having ascertained that the participants did not have a well-developed understanding of these certifications, I provided them with information sheets describing the purpose of each and the critiques that were discussed in Martin’s class. While these information sheets were certainly not comprehensive, they were intended to help the tasters understand the intent of my tasting.

After ensuring that all of the participants had read through their information sheets, I moved onto the tasting portion of the event. Before beginning, I allowed the tasters to read the series of questions asked on their tasting sheets. Using Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate as the first sample, I walked the group through the tasting process. Because the tasting was intended to be a blind test, I asked that the participants not look at the chocolate samples throughout the process. While not a foolproof method, the participants were able to avoid seeing the chocolate while performing the tasting. They were asked to first smell the chocolate, evaluating its aroma. Next, they were asked to snap their samples to judge the sound of the chocolate. Finally, they were allowed to put the chocolate on their tongues and let it melt. This final step was used for them to evaluate the texture and flavor of the chocolate. During each of these steps, the participants were asked to provide ratings for certain qualities on a scale of 1-5. An image of the specific questions asked is posted below. After answering this series of questions intended to help the tasters evaluate the chocolate, they were asked to judge the overall flavor and quality of the chocolate on scales of 1-10. The separation of flavor and quality was intended to account for tasters who prefer lower quality chocolate. One taster was particularly aware of his preference for low quality chocolate. His self-awareness was evident in his responses. Between each sample, tasters were asked to use carbonated water to cleanse their palates.

tasting sample
Tasting Sheet-Personal Photo

 

Once each of the 6 samples had been tasted, the tasters were told to rank the chocolate based on apparent quality. Once this task was completed, I announced the name of each sample and its certifications. I then asked the tasters based on their analysis whether they thought that there existed a correlation between quality and certification. Finally, I asked the participants how large of a premium they would be willing to pay to consume an equal amount of certified chocolate as non-certified. For example, if they would be willing to pay $1.50 for a certified chocolate bar and $1.00 for a non-certified bar of the same size, this difference was considered to be a 50% premium. Once this question was answered, the task was left to me to interpret the tasters’ responses.

Results

By the time that the tasting was complete, both questions I sought to address in my tasting had been answered. Simply put, the participants did not understand Fair Trade or Direct Trade, but had a basic knowledge about USDA Organic. Despite understanding the intent behind organic certification, they were not aware of the varying levels of certification and the requirements for each level. Since these Harvard students, a group which tends to have high engagement on socioeconomic and environmental issues, failed to recognize these certifications, it could be inferred that American consumers are unlikely to recognize them as well. For the organizations who provide these certifications, this lack of recognition should be concerning. Certified products may not be appropriately valued by consumers because the certifications mean little to the average person purchasing a chocolate bar or other certified products.

Flavor Ratings

Taster

Hershey’s Lake Champlain Taza Ghirardelli Lindt Dick Taylor

A

9 4 6 7 3 1

B

3 8 9 5 1 10

C

8 8 6 7 8

7

D 6 8 7 5 6

8

E 7 9 6 9 6

6

Average 6.6 7.4 6.8 6.6 4.8

6.4

Certified?

No Yes Yes No No

Yes*

This table shows the tasters’ reviews of the chocolate’s taste on a scale of 1-10.

Quality Ratings

Taster

Hershey’s Lake Champlain Taza Ghirardelli Lindt Dick Taylor

A

3 4 8 7 3 1

B

1 7 9 6 2 10
C 8 8 6 7 7

7

D 6 8 8 5 6

9

E 5 9 7 8 6

8

Average 4.6 7.2 7.6 6.6 4.8

7

Certified?

No Yes Yes No No

Yes*

This table shows the tasters’ estimates of the chocolate’s quality on a scale of 1-10.

The above tables display the participant’s responses to the various chocolate samples in terms of flavor and quality. The row labeled “Certified?” identifies whether the sample is certified with any of the three certifications discussed in this paper. In the flavor ratings, the certified chocolate performed well with Lake Champlain and Taza having the highest average response. Dick Taylor was below Hershey’s and Ghirardelli but was not far behind. Lindt was easily the least popular among the group. In the quality ratings, the gap between certified and non-certified chocolate was clear. Taza, Lake Champlain, and Dick Taylor were rated as the three highest quality chocolates on average. Ghirardelli’s average was slightly lower than this group, but the other two non-certified chocolates received much worse scores. While this sample of tasters and chocolate bars is too small to claim that the relationship between certification and quality is statistically significant, the selection of the certified bars as the best tasting and highest quality seems to indicate that these companies do in fact produce a higher quality product. This result could be explained by these companies’ relatively small supply as they tend to be craft chocolate makers while the non-certified companies produce on a much larger scale. This smaller production could be viewed as a confounding variable in my study. Without further study and a significant budget increase, it would be quite difficult to determine whether the smaller production or the certifications are the cause of the higher quality. Regardless of which aspect of these producers leads to their apparent higher quality, the selection of the certified products as the highest quality in this study seems to indicate that there is at least a correlation between quality and certification. In the table below, it is shown that the participants in the study were able to guess almost perfectly which chocolate bars were certified and which were not. Tasters A and C incorrectly guessed that Ghirardelli was certified, but all other answers in the study were correct. Since Ghirardelli had a significantly higher quality rating than the other non-certified chocolates, these incorrect guesses suggest that the participants perceived an association between quality and certification. The participants all felt that they could identify the certified bars based on apparent quality, further confirming this hypothesis.

Do you think it is certified?

Taster

Hershey’s Lake Champlain Taza Ghirardelli Lindt Dick Taylor

A

No Yes Yes Yes No Yes

B

No Yes Yes No No Yes
C No Yes Yes Yes No

Yes

D No Yes Yes No No

Yes

E No Yes Yes No No

Yes

Certified? No Yes Yes No No

Yes*

Participants’ guesses as to which bars were certified.

While the tasters’ failure to recognize the certifying bodies speaks to a lack of consumer education, the ability of participants to identify certified chocolates with near perfect accuracy signals that concerns about quality assurance from these certifying bodies may be unwarranted. The apparently discernable higher quality of certified chocolates may indicate that companies concerned with their business practices tend to produce better products. Despite this indication, the responses to the question of how large a premium should be on certified products fell significantly short of capturing the true price differences in the samples provided. On average, participants were willing to pay a 16% premium for certified chocolate. Based on prices for the certified chocolate and non-certified chocolate, the premium for these certified chocolates was approximately 249%. In other words the certified chocolate was approximately 3.5 times as expensive as the non-certified chocolate. With such disparity between actual pricing and the participants’ willingness to pay, the certified chocolate seems to be too expensive for the consumers in my study. Furthermore, only a small portion of this high premium reaches the farmers growing the cacao anyway (Sylla, 233). In conclusion, despite providing a higher quality product, these chocolate makers may not achieve their objectives in addressing issues in production due to high pricing, poor distribution of the price premium, and lack of consumer recognition. While these certifications are a step toward improving the chocolate industry, further efforts are necessary to fully address the poor conditions on cacao farms.

 

Works Cited

Fair Trade USA. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017.

Guthman, Julie. “Fast Food/Organic Food Reflexive Tastes and the Making of “Yuppie Chow”.” Food and Culture: A Reader. Ed. Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik. New York: Routledge, 2013. Print.

Martin, Carla. “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/globalization.” Cambridge, MA. 05 Apr. 2017. Lecture.

Nolan, Markham, Dusan Sekulovic, and Sara Rao. “The Fair Trade Shell Game.” Vocativ. Vocativ, 16 Apr. 2014. Web. 03 May 2017.

Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. New York: New, 2008. Print.

“Organic Regulations.” Organic Regulations | Agricultural Marketing Service. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017.

Sylla, Ndongo Samba. The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich. Trans. David Cleiment Leye. London: Pluto, 2014. Print.

“Taza Direct Trade.” Taza Chocolate. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017.

 

Photo Sources

Several photos in the essay are personal photos taken by me. These are labeled as such in the captions.

Côte d’Ivoire: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cote_d_Ivoire_in_Africa.svg

Fair Trade Logo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:FairTrade-Logo.svg

USDA Organic Logo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:USDA_organic_seal.svg

An Interview with a Chocolate Lover: Issues within the Chocolate Industry Revealed

Curious about people’s relationship with chocolate, I interviewed a young female adult about how her relationship with chocolate has changed from childhood into adulthood. The interviewee has never learned about chocolate, but she alludes to various historical, economical, and social issues within the chocolate industry throughout the interview. Specifically, she raises ethical issues about cacao farming practices, and explicates how business transactions harm chocolate producers. The interviewee is a college-educated individual, and demonstrates significant knowledge about these issues presumably because of her enrollment in a course about the sociology of food. Based on her responses in the interview, it is clear that this course changed her relationship with food and influences her current food decisions. Through the interview, the interviewee illuminates glaring issues within the chocolate industry related to the production of cacao, exploitation of cacao farmers, and chocolate advertising. First, she raises issues that about the production of cacao by demonstrating awareness about the economic difficulties cacao farmers face, and by discussing logistical issues about certifications that attempt to combat those economic issues. Second, in describing her chocolate preferences and perceptions, she alludes to issues regarding chocolate marketing strategies, and demonstrates the immense influence that chocolate advertisements hold over consumer purchasing decisions.

Before evaluating the historical, economic, and social issues within the chocolate industry revealed by the interviewee, it is necessary to explain the similarities between cacao and coffee bean production. The interviewee learned about coffee production in a course at a prestigious university, so this section purposes to provide legitimacy to the issues she raises about cacao production by emphasizing that the coffee and cacao industries experience the same problems, thereby qualifying her arguments about coffee production as applicable to cacao production as well. First, the working and economic conditions of coffee and cacao farmers are almost identical. Most coffee farmers produce beans on small, family-owned farms, and live in poverty.[1] Coffee farmers typically rely on bean sales as their primary source of income, but it is extremely volatile because it responds to any fluctuation in bean market prices and sales.[2] Second, coffee farmers can obtain Fair Trade and Organic Certification. Fair Trade promises the same benefits to coffee farmers as it does to cacao farmers, including minimum price premiums, social development, better labor rights, and long-term trading partnership.[3] Third, a large gap exists between coffee producers’ farming practices and coffee consumers’ purchasing decisions. There are stark differences between farmers that produce specialty coffee, and farmers that produce conventional, non-certified coffee. Demand for specialty coffee is on the rise because consumers, particularly those that identify with the ethical eating, Slow Food Movement, are willing to pay more for certified, eco-friendly coffee.[4] Higher quality coffee beans are sold at a higher price in the market, but most coffee consumers are unaware of the implications of their coffee-purchasing decisions.[5] Lastly, similar to the chocolate industry, a few select big coffee companies – less than 10 – control more than half of the coffee market.[6] These similarities are important to recognize, as the interviewee recalls this knowledge in the interview, and subsequently reveals that the economic and social issues afflicting coffee farmers and production are the same issues that exist in relation to cacao farming and production.

coffee beancacao bean

Image 1: Coffee Bean                                                                             Image 2: Cacao Bean

The interviewee brings attention to the importance of the raw coffee bean product to the existence of the entire coffee industry. Through this observation, she emphasizes the complete disconnect between coffee production and coffee consumption, revealing that the same issue exists within the chocolate industry. The interviewee comments, “without the farmers, you wouldn’t have the product. They’re the ones creating the base product to make coffee. They’re often the most forgotten. That’s like with any food product.”[7] This remark deserves close evaluation, as it perfectly describes the fragmented functioning and separateness of the different sectors of the coffee industry, also applicable to the chocolate industry. With that remark, the interviewee astutely explains that these complex industries rely wholly on the raw product, the bean, and without which, coffee and chocolate might not exist. This comment is interesting because it offers a simplistic vision that connects the necessity of the raw product to the consumer industry miles and miles away. This perception also illuminates how coffee and chocolate consumers are highly unaware of the implications of their purchasing decisions on the economic livelihood of the producers. Pictured in images 1 and 2 are a coffee and cacao bean, respectively (Image 1 and 2). These visuals purpose as a reminder to consumers that the coffee they drink from Starbucks, or Lindt chocolate they eat from their local supermarket, are products that begin with coffee and cacao beans, harvested and cultivated by farmers. Production and consumption are inherently connected, however, farmers are often naïve about the final product and consumers are often uneducated about the raw product process, both of which exacerbate the separateness between different players within the coffee and chocolate systems.

USDA organic labelImage 3: USDA Organic Certification Label

The interviewee discusses logistical issues with the Fair Trade and Organic Certification protocols, revealing that these labels harm rather than benefit cacao farmers and production. Fair Trade, Organic, and Direct Trade certifications share a common goal to compensate cacao farmers that produce their beans in adherence to specific environmental and social standards at a higher price than the conventional market offers.[8] The United States Department of Agriculture divides organic products into three categories, “100% organic,” “organic,” and “made with organic ingredients,” where each category is defined based on strict agricultural practice regulations.[9] Agricultural products that adhere to these standards are labeled with the “USDA Organic” logo, pictured in Image 3 (Image 3). In viewing this image, it is apparent that the USDA Organic label is not informative, as the certification seal does not specify whether the product is made with 100%, 95%, or at least 70% organic ingredients. The lack of information on this label raises questions about the authenticity of these certifications, and how organic certification guidelines are monitored. In probing about her knowledge regarding Organic Certification, the interviewee says “there are requirements…You can still use pesticides, but [the farmers] use “organic” or “natural” pesticides that are “better” for the environment…I know there are loopholes in the organic certification process.”[10] Here, the interviewee identifies the major criticisms of the USDA Organic Certification process in relation to cacao farming and production practices, alluding to claims of product quality issues and loose surveillance of organically certified cacao farmers’ adherence to USDA guidelines.[11] As revealed through her remarks, the vagueness of this label generates confusion among consumers. Furthermore, these observations illuminate the need for tighter institutional regulation of USDA Organic protocols, both for the benefit of consumers – ensuring that cacao farmers are following certification standards, guaranteeing that consumers are purchasing actual organic cacao – and for the benefit of the producers – that they are properly compensated for producing cacao beans using environmentally-friendly farming practices.

The interviewee circles the debate about the effectiveness of Fair Trade certification’s impact on cacao farmers’ economic situation through her advocacy for Fair Trade coffee bean farming and production. Similar to organic certification, Fair Trade certification encourages sustainable farming practices, while also promoting social welfare and establishing long-term trading partnerships.[12] In explaining the benefits of Fair Trade for coffee farmers, the interviewee says, “the farmers work long, laborious hours and they don’t get paid very well unless they are in the Fair Trade system…more money goes to the farmer when it’s a Fair Trade transaction.”[13] Through this comment, the interviewee reveals two similarities between coffee bean and cacao production that are problematic for the farmers. First, she describes the difficult working conditions that coffee bean farmers endure, such as long and physically fatiguing hours, and subsequently suggests that the farmers are underpaid considering their strenuous working conditions. She alludes to a prominent issue that cacao farmers face in that they are not properly compensated for their grueling laborious efforts, and that their contributions to the chocolate industry are severely under-valued. Second, she asserts that Fair Trade certified coffee farmers are more economically stable than non-certified coffee farmers, referencing minimum price premiums and prompt payments promised by Fair Trade to certified farmers. This suggests that consumers perceive Fair Trade as an impactful certification that improves farmers’ economic situation. However, in reality, there is no strong evidence that the Fair Trade system is effective in combatting farmers’ economic crises, particularly that of cacao farmers.[14] This misconception is problematic, as consumers’ might purchase Fair Trade products hoping to improve farmers’ income situation, unbeknownst to the faults of Fair Trade.

The interviewee explicates that some of her food decisions are based on the ethicality of food production practices, but names high prices of Fair Trade and Organic products as a barrier that prevents her from always purchasing certified products. In regards to the cacao industry, attempts to improve the ethicality of cacao farmers’ working conditions by consumer advocacy groups more often than not fail.[15] Chocolate consumers are often uneducated about the complexities of the chocolate industry, making it difficult for consumers to grasp how their purchasing decisions impact the economic and/or social situation of cacao farmers. Therefore, consumers cannot be responsible for initiating change of the exploitative economic and social conditions endured by cacao farmers. Surprisingly, the interviewee demonstrates a deep consciousness about the relationship between production and consumption, explaining that she became a vegetarian because “I don’t like the treatment of farm animals on conventional farms…Also, I don’t like the growth hormones and antibiotics.”[16] This reasoning suggests that she chooses the type of food she consumes based on the ethicality of food production practices. She further explains that she prefers to consume organic food, as “It’s more environmentally friendly.”[17] Again, she adopts an ethical argument to support her preference to consume organic over conventional farm products. However, she subsequently mentions that she does not always purchase certified Organic or Fair Trade products because they are “more expensive.”[18] This confession reveals a common misconception among consumers that certified products are always more expensive, which is false, as Organic and Fair Trade farming practices can actually cost the same or less than conventional farming practices.[19] Through her remarks, it is clear that the interviewee is a conscious consumer, as she chose to become a vegetarian because of inhumane treatment of animals on conventional farms, indicating her care for ethical farming and production practices. However, her perception that Organic, Fair Trade, and Direct Trade products are more expensive than non-certified products alludes to major critiques of certification organizations, commonly accused of corrupt practices and falsely promising cacao farmers fair payment. Through the interviewee’s comments, she illuminates a significant issue that Organic, Fair Trade, and Direct Trade are actually more harmful than beneficial to cacao farmers’ economic and social conditions.

woman eating chocolate     Image 4: Gender in Chocolate Advertisement

Through the interviewee’s description of her chocolate perceptions and preferences, she reveals an issue rarely addressed, that of the immense control chocolate advertisements exercise over consumer choice. Chocolate advertisements commonly portray chocolate as an aphrodisiac, and as a luxurious product, through women’s sexuality.[20] Image 4 exemplifies this theme, as it pictures a woman, seemingly wearing no clothes, holding a piece of chocolate to her lips, with a seductive facial expression (Image 4). The image portrays chocolate as a desirable food through the sexual presentation and nature of the woman. The brightly colored lipstick brings focus to her lips, and accompanied by the sensual facial expression, the ad attempts to associate chocolate with love and romance. Furthermore, the woman is highly manicured, adorned with extravagant accessories, which contributes to the depiction of chocolate as a decadent and highly valuable product. Several times throughout the interview, the interviewee references chocolate as a “luxurious item.”[21] This association of chocolate with luxury precisely demonstrates the strong influence of chocolate advertisements, such as image 4, on consumers’ perceptions of chocolate. When prompted to reflect about chocolate advertisements, the interviewee pauses and appears puzzled, admitting a moment later that she only notices chocolate ads around Valentine’s Day.[22] Again, this emphasizes the effectiveness of chocolate marketing strategies to portray the product as an aphrodisiac, as consumers evidently associate chocolate with romance and love. The combination of a presumably seduced woman and a chocolate product, exampled in Image 4, contribute to this representation of chocolate as desirable. Most importantly, the interviewee illuminates that consumers are highly unaware of two issues related to chocolate marketing. First, the strong influence chocolate ads possess in forming their perceptions of chocolate, and second, the exploitation of female sexuality to deliver this specific representation of chocolate products. Based on the interviewee’s susceptibility to the impact of chocolate advertisements on her perceptions, and her unawareness of gender exploitation that litters these ads, it suggests that the chocolate industry should be taking action to enforce regulations that will reduce the influence of chocolate marketing on consumer perceptions and regulate chocolate marketing content.

Trader Joe's dark chocolate bar     Image 5: Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Product

The interviewee’s description of her chocolate preferences further demonstrates consumer susceptibility to the influences of chocolate advertisements. The interviewee reveals she favors dark chocolate, offering “I buy it at Trader Joe’s…I like the pure flavor of their products.”[23] First, Trader Joe’s is a grocery store that advertises the sale of organic, natural, fresh food at low prices. Second, recall that the interviewee prefers organic food, but high prices prevent her from purchasing organic products. Keeping these two pieces of information in mind, the interviewee’s comment suggests that she purchases chocolate at Trader Joe’s because it is both organic and affordable. In addition to these conscious reasons, the packaging of the chocolate may also contribute to the interviewee’s decision to purchase dark chocolate bars from Trader Joe’s, though she is unconscious of this influence. Image 5 exemplifies a dark chocolate bar product sold at Trader Joe’s, one that the interviewee might encounter (Image 5). This package exercises marketing strategies to influence consumer choice by emphasizing a high cacao content of “61%,” indicative of pure chocolate. Additionally, printing “Imported from Belgium” carries connotations associated with Europe, such as fantasy and romance. Lastly, the package pictures a crown, presumably representative of chocolate’s historical association with royalty in Europe. This suggests to the consumer that the chocolate is luxurious and highly valuably, and implies that the chocolate will taste rich and pure. All of these elements on the package impact the consumer’s decision to purchase that product by manipulating her perceptions, thereby prompting the consumer to imagine the chocolate will taste special over other chocolate products. Similar to an issue already discussed, the interviewee reveals that consumers are naïve to chocolate marketing strategies, and make unconscious purchasing decisions based on the effectiveness of chocolate ads and their ability to influence consumers’ perceptions and taste preferences of chocolate.

The interviewee reveals major historical, economic, and social issues that persist within the chocolate industry through her comments about coffee production, and in describing her chocolate perceptions and taste preferences. Historical issues, such as the under-recognized efforts of cacao farmers and their contributions that permit the existence of the chocolate industry – i.e. they provide the raw product to make chocolate – are evidently issues that exist within the coffee industry as well. Economic issues, such as volatile income and impoverished livelihoods, partially the fault of certification organizations like Organic and Fair Trade, are also issues within both the cacao and coffee industries. Lastly, social issues related to the use of sexualized images of women to control consumers’ perceptions and taste preferences of chocolate are seemingly unnoticed by consumers. This is problematic in that consumers are unaware that these ads contribute to the proliferation of stereotypical gender roles, and in that consumers are also unaware that they possess little agency in their chocolate purchasing decisions.
[1] Christopher Bacon, “Confronting the Coffee Crisis: Can Fair Trade, Organic, and Specialty Coffees Reduce Small-scale Farmer Vulnerability in Northern Nicaragua?,” World Development 33 (2005): 497-511.
[2] Joni Valkila, “Fair Trade Organic Coffee Production in Nicaragua – Sustainable Development or a Poverty Trap,” Ecological Economics 68 (2009): 3018-3025.
[3] Valkila, “Fair Trade organic coffee.”
[4] Julie Guthman, “Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of “Yuppie Chow,” in Food and Culture, ed. by Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik (New York: Routledge, 2013), 496-509.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Bacon, “Confronting the Coffee Crisis.”
[7] Anonymous, interview by Ashlee Korsberg, April 24, 2017.
[8] Carla Martin, “Alternative trade and virtuous/localization/globalization” (lecture, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, April 5, 2017).
[9] “USDA Organic Labeling Regulations,” USDA, accessed April 30, 2017, https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=c4e0df8f46a4f4b6f56d80be31f95ed3&rgn=div6&view=text&node=7:3.1.1.9.32.4&idno=7.
[10] Anonymous.
[11] Martin, “Alternative trade.”
[12] Ibid.
[13] Anonymous.
[14] Ndongo Samba Sylla, “On the Inequalities of the International Trade System” and “The Fair Trade Universe,” in The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich, translated by David Clement Leye (London: Pluto Press, 2014).
[15] Carla Martin, “Modern day slavery” (lecture, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, March 22, 2017).
[16] Anonymous.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Martin, “Alternative Trade.”
[20] Emma Robertson, “A deep physical reason’: gender, race and the nation in chocolate consumption,” in Chocolate, women and empire: A social and cultural history (Oxford: Manchester University Press, 2009), 18-63.
[21] Anonymous
[22] Anonymous.
[23] Anonymous.

References

Anonymous. Interview by Ashlee Korsberg, April 24, 2017.

Bacon, Christopher. “Confronting the Coffee Crisis: Can Fair Trade, Organic, and Specialty Coffees Reduce Small-scale Farmer Vulnerability in Northern Nicaragua?.” World Development 33 (2005): 497-511.

Guthman, Julie. “Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of “Yuppie Chow.” In Food and Culture, edited by Carole Counihan, and Penny Van Esterik, 496-509, New York: Routledge, 2013.

Martin, Carla. “Alternative trade and virtuous/localization/globalization.” Lecture at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, April 5, 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Modern day slavery.” Lecture at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, March 22, 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Race, ethnicity, gender, and class in chocolate advertisements.” Lecture at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, March 29, 2017.

Robertson, Emma. “A deep physical reason’: gender, race and the nation in chocolate consumption.” In Chocolate, women and empire: A social and cultural history, 18-63, Oxford: Manchester University Press, 2009.

Sylla, Ndongo Samba. “On the Inequalities of the International Trade System” and “The Fair Trade Universe.” In The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich, translated by David Clement Leye, London: Pluto Press, 2014.

U.S. Government Publishing Office. “USDA Organic Labeling Regulations.” Accessed April 30, 2017. https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=c4e0df8f46a4f4b6f56d80be31f95ed3&rgn=div6&view=text&node=7:3.1.1.9.32.4&idno=7.

Valkila, Joni. “Fair Trade Organic Coffee Production in Nicaragua – Sustainable Development or a Poverty Trap.” Ecological Economics 68 (2009): 3018-3025.

Image sources

Image 1: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Coffee_Beans_Photographed_in_Macro.jpg

Image 2: https://pixabay.com/en/photos/cocoa/

Image 3: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:USDA_organic_seal.svg

Image 4: https://www.flickr.com/photos/orofacial/8219609037

Image 5: https://chocolateihaveknown.wordpress.com/category/acquired/trader-joes/

 

 

CVS vs. Whole Foods: Convenience or consciousness?

Introduction

CVS versus Whole Foods Market? Many, to include myself, would say hands down, there is no comparison or competition. Considering the distinctive customer, core values, accessibility of brands, ingredients, and price tags of chocolate displayed in each establishment, Whole Foods stands as bar none (no pun intended). According to Nielsen’s Global consumer study, which conducted a survey on snacking with a poll of 30,000 online consumers in 60 countries to identify what attributes were most important to them–in regards to consumption, confection (led by chocolate) accounted for $20 billion USD in sales (Nielsen 5). Furthermore, in a span of 30 days, 64% of global respondents consumed chocolate (6). Moreover, consumers chose chocolate second to fruit out of 47 snacking options as their favorite (6). Thereby, results concluded that in addition to chocolate being favored by consumers through mass consumption: chocolate is big business.

As one who adores all things Whole Foods, frequenting the store no less than ten times a week, yet also familiar with the convenient trappings of CVS, I tasked myself with curiosity in my search to examine the differences between these consumer giants more critically. In addition to online research of their histories and ethics, I perused the aisles to investigate their chocolate products, price points and distinctive experiences of each visit. Among obvious differences, my findings revealed incongruencies in the mission and ethics of one giant, and a resolve to the question of why each giant may serve a valid purpose beyond health consciousness.

History and Mission

For centuries chocolate has represented a broad range of symbolisms–including wealth, delicacy, medicinal healing, religious rituals, and pleasure. Over a period of the 16th through 20th century, Europe and New Spain produced 100 medicinal uses for cacao/chocolate, which included treatment of anemia, exhaustion, bowl dysfunction and skin irritations (Dillinger et al. 2057S). Today, we consume chocolate mainly for the purposes of pleasure and indulgence. This pleasure and indulgence is heightened by the allure of marketing and availability of chocolate products produced by manufacturers who have industrialized their brand for affordable global mass consumption and maximized profits. This industrial mass globalization of products were well represented in my visit to CVS, where I found the allure of chocolate advertisements and products to be excessive. In comparison, Whole Foods displayed a much smaller and more refined chocolate section.

IMG_1763 (1)
CVS Chocolate aisle

IMG_1761
CVS Chocolate products

IMG_1766
Whole Foods Chocolate section and products

IMG_1767 (1)

Consumer Value Stores (CVS), now CVS Health Corporation, was founded in 1963 by two brothers, and became the first store to sell health and beauty products, later expanding into pharmaceuticals and health management in 1967. CVSs mission statement reads: “Millions of times a day, close to home and across the country, we’re helping people on their path to better health” (CVS Health, Our Story).

With a closing revenue of $41.1 billion USD in 2015, a first quarter revenue of $20.1 billion USD as of March 2016 (Marketwatch), and the recent acquisition of Target’s pharmacies and clinics (CVS Health, History 2010s), CVS stands as the top national retail pharmaceutical company nationwide. Apart from their financial success, ethically I find their choice to sell Hershey, Nestle and Mars chocolate brands–all produced by GMO and child slave labor–where children are forced to pick cocoa beans to be sold to companies, beaten, abused and denied compensation for their work–to be deplorable and incongruent with their mission statement. From this, I can only assume that CVS is either ignorant to the truth that “better health” is not limited to pharmaceutical drugs and healthcare, but include the standards of ingredients of the food we consume. Moreover, “better health” should include and extend to the environmental conditions and treatment of labor workers who are responsible for creating chocolate for retail profit. The alternative possibility is that CVS just doesn’t care about the bean-to-bar process, rather reserving interest in chocolate reaching their shelves and retail portfolio. Overall, I find these possibilities to be the most disparate among these two giants.

In 1980 Whole Foods Market was founded by four local businessmen/women during a time when fewer than six natural food supermarkets existed in the United States. Their goal was to integrate the natural foods industry into a supermarket experience (Whole Foods Market, History). Today, Whole Foods Market closed 2015 with sales of $15 billion USD and reached $3.7 billion USD in sales the first quarter of this year. Their mission statement reads: “[H]ealthy means a whole lot more… [b]eyond good for you, to also encompass the greater good. [W]e offer a place for you to shop where value is inseparable from [our] values.” In line with their mission, they provide a list of unacceptable foods that contradict their values and standards, which they refuse to sell to their consumers.

Unlike CVS, Whole Foods value system is committed to creating health from a whole perspective, to include food consumption. Whole Foods prides the purchase of their chocolate through ethical sources (Whole Foods Market, Why Your Chocolate Choices Matter). In addition to their Organic Standards, which confirm a product has been produced through approved methods and met specific USDA verified requirements prior to labeling (Whole Foods Market, Organic), the foundation of their value system largely exists on Whole Trade. Whole Trade is a program which highlights their commitment to ethical trade, the environment and quality products sourced from developing nations (Whole Foods Market, Whole Trade). Many of the chocolate bars are also certified by Fair Trade USA, a nonprofit organization, and third-party certifier which audits and certifies transactions between domestic companies and their international suppliers, to ensure that farmers and workers are paid fair prices and wages, work in safe conditions, protect the environment and receive community development funds to empower and improve their communities (Whole Foods Market, Fair Trade).

In further alignment with their mission and values, in 2012, Whole Foods ended their relationship with Scharffen Berger Chocolate, a high-end product of Hershey’s, over child labor abuses (International Labor Rights Forum). As Hershey provided no evidence to disprove their use of child labor abuse in producing their product when requested, Scharffen Berger was removed from Whole Foods shelves nationwide. Although this move was considered just and honorable by many, Judy Gearhart, Executive Director of the International Labor Rights Forum, thought it to be contradictory. According to Gearhart, in more than one instance Whole Foods has “turned a blind eye” to the conduct of other suppliers who violate workers’ rights, by refusing to hold them equally accountable as Hershey (International Labor Rights Forum). Although there are arguments and critiques of the fairness involved in Fair trade, one being the exorbitant costs to farmers to attain certification for which they lack resources, I still view Whole Foods choice to partner with organizations and programs that pay attention and care about both the workers that produce the product, and the product ingredients, to be ethically honorable and socially responsible.

In data retrieved from Nielsen’s Global consumer study, respondents reported to care more about the ingredients which create their chocolate and preferring to “stick to the basics” (Nielsen 9). Nature-based ingredients scored 45% (9), but it was the environmentally conscious consumers that counted sustainability and organic among the most important in their snacking [experiences] (9). Based on these results, why do we continue to purchase chocolate from CVS?

Products and Price

In my visit to CVS, I had no challenge locating chocolate. From the registers near the front of the door leading to the aisle, I was surrounded by daunting quantities and advertisements of chocolate. Upon first observation, the magnitude of sale stickers and value buys that were gifted with increased quantities of purchase, were distracting. Noticeably leading in options were the Big Five chocolate competitors: Cadbury, Ferrero, Hershey’s, Mars and Nestle (the “Big Five”). The Big Five were the top five chocolate brand competitors who waged a chocolate war in China during the 1980’s – 90’s, with the purposes of introducing the then new product to Chinese consumers by creating a dominating brand presence. In the end, Mars emerged as the superior battle champion.
In CVS, the average cost of a chocolate bar was $2.50, with promotional sales for Buy 1- get-the 2nd 50% off and 2-for-$3.00. The lowest priced bar by Hershey’s Chocolate, cost $1.19. Shockingly, there was only one health conscious brand available, appearing to the far right: Endangered Species Chocolate. The Endangered Species Chocolate label advertised Fair Trade, Non-GMO Verified, Gluten Free Certified and Certified Vegan, at a modest price of $2.99 for 3 ounces. As socially conscious as Endangered Species Chocolate brand appears to be, with products rated at nearly five stars by consumers, I was disappointed when visiting their website that they chose to use an image of a young African child’s face to appear in connection to the phrase endangered species. Is there no consideration or awareness of how this image connotes racist beliefs about people of color? Moreover, is it their responsibility to be aware, or our responsibility to know the history of chocolate to bring awareness?

In my visit to Whole Foods, along with overwhelm and oversaturation of choices and products found at CVS, noticeably absent were the beloved Big Five. Available brands were Taza Chocolate, Icelandic Chocolate, Lake Champlain Chocolates and Whole Foods 365 Chocolate (to name a few). Though unfamiliar, I felt an instant attraction to these brands mainly due to the simplicity and sophistication of their wrappers and refined ingredients. Aesthetically and logistically, Whole Foods displays their chocolate in a small section–nestled amongst other products, with equal promotion. As there were sale advertisements on select chocolate products, similar to CVS of 2-for $3, the quality of chocolate was healthier and certified Fair Trade.

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Whole Foods sale advertisement for Organic and Fair Trade chocolate bars

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El Ceibo Fine Dark Chocolate Organic bars, $6.49.

The average price for a chocolate bar was $4.00 for 3 ounces. The most inexpensive bar was their Whole Foods 365 brand, boasting a label of Whole Trade and USDA Organic certifications at $2.49 for 3 ounces. The most expensive was $7.99 by El Ceibo, a fine dark chocolate brand from Bolivia. Although Ceibo’s label did not promote the popular certifications (e.g., Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, etc.) of their less expensive competitors, their core driving principle is environmentally sustainable production and respect for life, cultures and the environment. While fine chocolate is expected to be more expensive, do higher prices equal a better product?… According to Clay Gordon, creator of the chocolate lover’s website, The Chocolate Life, and internationally recognized independent authority on all things chocolate: Not so. Gordon states that “[although certain] bars might cost significantly more than… [CVS at] $7 [plus] per bar, [it is] because [you are] paying a fair price that actually accounts for the labor, shipment, and processing of the beans, instead of one artificially subsidized by abusive practices” (Shanker, 2013). Nevertheless, the ingredients of both bars pictured below bare clear distinctions of unknown ingredients, versus whole ingredients available in our kitchens and local supermarkets.

IMG_1778 (2)
Cadbury Daily Milk Chocolate bar,  $2.19.

 

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Cadbury Daily Milk Chocolate label ingredients, most artificial

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Whole Foods 365 Organic Dark Chocolate Almond bar, certified Whole Trade and USDA Organic, $2.49.

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Whole Foods 365 Organic Dark Chocolate Almond bar, certified Whole Trade and USDA Organic label ingredients, all localized and natural

Conclusion

In conclusion, I am left to wonder if the most overlooked distinction between CVS and Whole Foods is the why and how we choose to consume chocolate? A trip for snacks is usually a quick in-and-out venture that can happen anytime of the day or night. Avoiding the possibility of long lines at the grocery store is a deterrent. Nielsen reported 58% of consumers do not plan their snack purchases (Nielsen 13) and prefer them at arms-reach (15); with 31% purchased at the check-out counters; and 43% on sale (13). While chocolate sales do not affect my purchase choices, I admit that as much I love Whole Foods, when my sweet tooth aches for candy, I don’t immediately consider healthy options. Instead I beeline for convenience and the uber unconscious Snickers with Almonds, Raisinets, Almond M&M’s and Tootsie Rolls (not all at once, promise) – which are all available at CVS. However, on the days when I am more health conscious about my chocolate choices, I intentionally visit Whole Foods for my favorite Dark Chocolate and Almonds Bar with Sea Salt by Chocolove. I admit that there is a difference in how I feel when I purchase and indulge in my beloved Chocolove bar in comparison to Snickers and Kit Kat from CVS. In addition to taste and quality, the most important difference is that purchasing from Whole Foods feels more deliberate and rewarding–knowing that my investment in my personal wellness extends to the social, economic and financial wellness of others.

Both CVS and Whole Foods hold clear and distinct ideas and values on health, wellness and integrity. However, I count leading a company whose integrity corresponds with the brands they market and sell to their consumers as the greatest distinction. As a supermarket, Whole Foods has not limited their product offerings to just food; medicinal and healthcare products are also made available to their customers. In view of that fact, why does CVS limit their offerings of health and wellness to pharmaceutical products and healthcare? Perhaps as we continue to rise socially and globally to the occasion of conscious responsibility for our wellness and environmental safety, CVS will revisit their mission and branding to fully align the practices of chocolate manufacturers’ with their intent to “… help people on their path to better health.” In the meantime, I will continue my occasional beeline visits to conveniently fulfill my moments of unconscious consumption.

Citations

CVS Health. Web. 9 May 2016.

“CVS Health Reports First Quarter Results; Confirms 2016 Adjusted EPS Guidance.” Marketwatch Online, 2016. Web. 9 May 2016.

Dillinger, T.L. et al. “Food of the Gods: Cure for Humanity? A Cultural History of the Medicinal and Ritual Use of Chocolate.” The Journal of Nutrition 130 (2000): 2057S-2072S. Web. 9 May 2016.

Nielsen. “Snack Attack. What Consumers are reaching for around the world.”  September 2014. Web PDF. 9 May 2016.

Shanker, Deena. “A Guide to ethical chocolate.” Grist, 13 Feb. 2002. Web. 9 May 2016.

Whole Foods Market. Web. May 2016.

“Whole Foods Drops Hershey’s Scharffen Berger Chocolates Over Child Labor Abuses.” International Labor Rights Forum. Press Releases, 2012. Web. 9 May 2016.

Ethical Chocolate: Sweet or Sour?

The concept of the “ethical consumer” was first formally published in 1989 by a UK magazine and has since gained popularity amongst those who view consumption as a moralistic opportunity to translate their personal convictions into pubic action (Giesler & Veresiu). Ethical consumerism is founded on the perception of market-based consumption as a simultaneously economic and political act, a means by which to express one’s fundamentally non-economic values by “voting with dollars.” Through the deliberate moral boycotting of those products that do not meet specific moral or environmental criteria regarding conditions of production, ethical consumers aim to embed the capitalist market within a system of social norms and environmental concerns. The purchasing patterns of these self-proclaimed ethical consumers are thus largely governed by the presence or absence of what has been defined as “values-based labels,” or labels that make explicit claims to be engaged in an “ethical and moral effort to counter unsustainable trends within presently existing capitalism” (Barham 349-350).

In recent years, much light has been shed on the existence of several of these unsustainable trends within the chocolate industry. After many technological innovations of the 19th century allowed for the mass production of chocolate, emerging producers became engaged in a race to conquer this new and flourishing market. Even after plantation slavery had been officially abolished in European colonies across the globe, the success of many of the pioneering chocolate firms became inextricably bound up in imperialistic pursuits. The promise of increasing profits proved too alluring for some members of the chocolate industry to resist the free price of forced labor, and post-abolition slavery remained an integral link in the supply chains of many companies. As late as the early 1900s, investigators backed by the Cadbury company discovered incontrovertible evidence of slave labor on cacao farms on the former Portuguese colony of São Tomé and Príncipe. After public outcry erupted, British chocolate firms formally boycotted cacao from São Tomé and Príncipe and relocated their production centers to Africa’s Gold Coast, where cash crop production was already coming to fruition (Martin, “Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor”). The seeds were thus planted for the growth of the West African cacao economies, which remain dominant centers of cacao production to this day.

Over the course of the 20th century, cacao exportation became particularly important in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, former British and French colonies, respectively. Today, over 60% of the world’s total cacao production falls upon these two small, developing African nations, with Côte d’Ivoire producing 34.4% and Ghana producing 17.5%. The brunt of this heavy load is borne on the shoulders of agricultural laborers scattered across two million small-scale, independent family farms. These West African cocoa farmers are collectively responsible for the production of 2.8 million metric tons of cocoa per year, yet receive an average per capita daily income of below $0.30 USD (Martin, “Modern day Slavery”).

Given these unsustainable wages, in conjunction with the extremely labor-intensive nature of cacao farming, it is no small surprise that labor conditions on cacao farms are often hazardous and, on occasion, coercive. In response to the increased public visibility of the deplorable working conditions that plague many of the cacao farms throughout West Africa, many chocolate retailers have vowed to sell products made only from ethically-sourced cacao. They have claimed corporate social responsibility by shifting production sources to ethically-certified cacao co-operatives that promise sustainable conditions of production both for workers and the environment (Martin, “Alternative trade and virtuous localization/globalization”). As such, many products marketed in today’s grocery stores now bear the logos for various certifications of ethical production, such as Fair Trade, USDA Organic, Direct Trade, Non-GMO Project, and Rainforest Alliance.

Fair Trade USA Certification Label
Fair Trade USA Certification Label (Fair Trade USA)

Regardless of the specific nature of their claims, products bearing these values-based labels distinguish themselves from their ordinary commercial counterparts through an emphasis on process and quality, attempting to increase corporate transparency by reconnecting consumers to the conditions of production along the supply chain. With the rise of corporate social responsibility, one of the most eminent values-based labels has become that of Fairtrade International, which first appeared in 1988 on coffee sold in Dutch supermarkets, in opposition to the exploitation of coffee pickers in Mexico. By 2002, Fairtrade International launched their official FAIRTRADE Certification Mark to “improve visibility on supermarket shelves, facilitate cross border trade, and simplify export procedures for both producers and exporters.”  Five years later, Fairtrade became recognized as one of just seven organizations worldwide that had reached the highest standards for defining terms of ethical trade (“History of Fairtrade”).

(“Fair Trade: Every Purchase Matters,” 2011)

However, despite these increasingly abundant claims of virtuous production, in this promise to consumers that “behind every Fairtrade certified label is a rigorous certification process, which means [they] can feel confident knowing that [they] are living [their] values with each purchase,” this video makes clear that the undercompensated laborers on West African cacao farms are, in fact, not the primary beneficiaries of many of these values-based certifications. Despite the fact that global Fairtrade sales have amounted to over $3 billion in the non-profit’s short lifetime, very few of these consumer “dollar votes” to “ensure farmers and workers are getting a fair deal” actually reach the impoverished laborers themselves after traveling through Fairtrade’s expensive bureaucratic network (Martin, “Alternative trade and virtuous localization/globalization”).

As such, many of these values-based certification claims of virtuous production do not seem to hold up in practice. The stark reality remains that, in the $100 billion per year chocolate industry, a vast majority of cocoa farmers remain well below the poverty line. These farmers seem to be of secondary concern to the ethical consumers themselves, whose restless consciences and hesitant pocketbooks can be placated by the knowledge that, when they buy values-based goods, “they are making a choice that means quality products, improved lives, and protection of the environment” (“Fair Trade: Every Purchase Matters”). The construction of the socially responsible chocolate producer thus plays directly into the hands of the emerging ethical consumer, relying increasingly on values-based labeling as a means by which to manipulate this audience into consumption by appealing to their heightened moral sensibilities.

It is evident that, within the Machiavellian context of the capitalist marketplace, consumers must always remain skeptical of the motives and claims made by producers. As such, I decided to conduct a taste test survey in hopes of exploring and evaluating the influence of these values-based labels on consumer perceptions of chocolate’s overall taste and nutritional value, the nature of which can ultimately determine downstream purchasing behaviors.

My experiment was comprised of a two-part taste test of nine different chocolate bars, each of which had range of values-based labels. The chocolate bars and their certifications, or lack thereof, were as follows:

Chocolate bars

  1. Dove Dark Chocolate (Rainforest Alliance Certified)
  2. Endangered Species Chocolate: Natural Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt & Almonds, 72% Cacao (Rainforest Alliance Certified, Non-GMO Project Verified)
  3. Hershey’s Milk Chocolate (None)
  4. Hershey’s Special Dark Mildly Sweet Chocolate Bar, 45% Cacao (None)
  5. Lindt Excellence: 70% Cocoa Smooth Dark Chocolate (None)
  6. Nestlé’s Milk Chocolate (None)
  7. Rescue Chocolate: Pick Me! Pepper Chocolate (Fair Trade Certified, USDA Organic Certified)
  8. Taza Chocolate Mexicano Cacao Puro, 70% Dark (Non-GMO Project Verified, Direct Trade Certified, USDA Organic Certified)
  9. Theo Chocolate: Pure 85% Dark Chocolate (Non-GMO Project Verified, Fair Trade Certified, USDA Organic Certified)

The first half of the experiment consisted of a blind taste test, in which each of my seven participants tasted samples of the nine different chocolate bars, given in a random but consistent order to all participants, with no visual cues or background information regarding the chocolate itself or the company that produced it. After each sample, I prompted participants to answer a series of three questions, the first of which asked them to score their overall enjoyment of each undisclosed chocolate bar on a scale of 0-5 (based on flavor, texture, aroma, etc.), where 0 indicated no enjoyment and 5 indicated strong enjoyment. The second question then asked participants to answer how many calories they thought one serving of each chocolate bar contained relative to other brands of chocolate. I provided them with the USDA nutritional breakdown for a general “Sweet Chocolate Bar,” which contains 208 calories per 41 g serving, as a standard reference for this subsequent evaluation (“USDA Sweet Chocolate Bar”). Answers for this second question were also given on a scale of 0-5, where 0 indicated that they thought the chocolate in question contained many fewer calories than the standard given, and 5 indicated that they believed it contained many more calories. The final question asked participants to rate, again on a scale of 0-5, how frequently they thought each chocolate bar should be consumed compared to other brands of chocolate, where 0 indicated much less frequently and 5 indicated much more frequently.

(Pleasantly?) surprised taste testers!
(Pleasantly?) surprised taste testers!

 

 

 

 

 

In contrast, the second half of the experiment was an informed taste test, in which I first provided the participants with a brief description of all the different values-based certifications represented by the chocolate brands, including Fair Trade, Direct Trade, USDA Organic, and Rainforest Alliance. Before re-tasting each sample, I presented participants with background information about the producer as well as the product itself, paraphrased from the packaging and company website. The participants were also told the ingredients and given a complete list of any of the aforementioned certifications received by each bar. I then had them taste each of the nine chocolate samples again in alphabetical order, after which they were then asked the same series of three questions in the same order, regarding overall enjoyment, relative caloric content, and proposed frequency of consumption.

When all participants finished both parts of the experiment, I compared the results from the answers given during the blind taste test versus the informed taste test, analyzing any significant trends or notable changes. A comparison of the answers given for the first question concerning overall enjoyment of each chocolate bar, as they changed from the blind test to the informed test, can be summarized by the following graph:

Overall Enjoyment Results
Overall Enjoyment Results

 

These results reveal that consumer enjoyment of each chocolate was indeed somewhat impacted by awareness of the product and producer, as overall ratings did not remain constant between tests for any of the nine samples. Because the intrinsic, objective factors (i.e. ingredients, presence or absence of conching, etc.) contributing to the chocolate’s overall quality, flavor, texture, and aroma were unchanged across both tests, it can be deduced that some extrinsic factor was affecting the subjective personal experience of these qualities. This extrinsic factor can be assumed to be contained within the information provided to participants during the second, non-blind taste test. In this case, consumer satisfaction and experience of chocolate quality might have been influenced by awareness of brand name, company background, or ingredients, as well as sensitivity to product description or values-based certifications.

In both the blind and informed taste test, the Dove Dark Chocolate came out on top, with 24.5 and 27.5 points, respectively. The fluctuations in overall enjoyment appear to be more correlated with whether the chocolate bars were of the milk chocolate or dark chocolate variety, rather than with the knowledge of the company mission or values-based certifications. Both milk chocolate samples tested (Hershey’s and Nestlé’s) received much lower ratings in the non-blind test, while enjoyment increased for all the dark chocolate bars. Initially, in the blind taste test, Nestlé’s Milk Chocolate received 20.5 points, but only half of that number in the informed taste test, falling from fourth to last place. Similarly, Hershey’s Milk Chocolate ratings declined to 13, placing it eighth out of nine in the second test. In contrast, enjoyment of Hershey’s Dark Chocolate bar increased from 22 to 27 points, bringing it from third place in the blind taste test to second place in the informed taste test. This observed trend may in part be due to the fact that dark chocolate is often perceived as being of higher quality and purity than milk chocolate. The ability to discern visual indicators of this presumed superior quality, such as the dark color of the chocolate bar itself or the percentage of cacao contained within it, may have caused participants to perceive the dark chocolate bars as being of higher quality in the second test.

Amongst those chocolates with several values-label certifications, Taza Cacao Puro enjoyment remained relatively high and stable across both tests, while enjoyment of Rescue Chocolate, Endangered Species Chocolate, and Theo Chocolate was relatively low, but increased slightly in the informed test. This finding becomes of particular interest, when taken with the results from the following question, in which participants were asked how frequently they thought each chocolate bar should be consumed compared to other chocolate brands:

Proposed Consumption Frequency
Proposed Consumption Frequency

With the exception of the Lindt chocolate, which is marketed as a premium chocolate, the recommended frequency of consumption for chocolate brands that lacked any values-based certifications showed a marked decreased over the course of the two taste tests. Conversely, for those chocolate brands that did have values-based certifications, the recommended frequency of consumption increased conspicuously in the informed taste test compared to the blind taste test. When taken with the previous observation that enjoyment of these same chocolate bars was lower than most other conventional bars and did not increase significantly, such a finding suggests that it is the consumer’s active promotion of those social or environmental causes that are represented by these values-based labels, rather than an improved tasting experience, that is motivating them to recommend more frequent consumption when their knowledge of the product increases.

The final question touched more directly on my main inquiry and motivation for conducting this taste test survey–that is, whether claims of ethical production would promote a “halo effect,” a long-established phenomenon in social psychology whereby “an initial favorable impression promotes subsequent favorable evaluations on unrelated dimensions” (Schuldt, Muller, & Schwarz 1). Participants were asked to score relative calorie content of each chocolate sample, a higher score out of 35 total points reflecting that participants tended to think that the chocolate sample contained more calories than most other brands of chocolate, while a score on the lower end indicating the general perception of the chocolate as lower calorie than most other chocolate brands.

Proposed Calorie Content
Proposed Calorie Content

These results demonstrate that those chocolate brands with several ethical production certifications were ranked as being significantly lower in calories in the informed taste test. In contrast, all of the bars that lacked any explicit claims of ethical production methods were perceived as being much higher in calories after the second taste test. Consistent with the logic of health halo effects, consumers appeared to be making positive and negative health inferences on the basis of the presence or absence of socially ethical food production practices, respectively, which bear no nutritional connotation whatsoever. Previous research has already demonstrated the existence of significant “health halo effects” based on claims of USDA Organic certification, whereby consumers judge organic foods as being lower in calories than their non-organic counterparts, regardless of the fact that organic certification does not have any direct bearing on calorie content. For example, people tend to judge Oreo cookies made from organic flour as containing fewer calories than do regular Oreos, despite the fact that the two products have equal nutritional value (Schuldt, Muller, & Schwarz 2).

With the growing obesity epidemic sweeping the nation, this health halo effect that accompanies values-based labeling is of imminent concern, as consumers are being led to make to unfounded assumptions about the nutritional value of the foods they are eating

Sucrose for Comfort (Mother Jones)
“Sucrose for Comfort” (Mother Jones)

Over the past 30 years, the percentage of adults who suffer from obesity has more than doubled from 15% to 35.7%, causing the incidence of diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses to skyrocket. Increasing rates of obesity have been shown to be directly correlated with annual per capita sugar consumption, which has soared to over 132 pounds in the United States, or the equivalent of 31 teaspoons of added sugars per day (Taubes & Couzens, Albritton 343). This exponential sugar increase in the American diet can be largely attributed to the rise of industrial food corporations, which, driven by competition in the capitalist marketplace, seek to maximize profits by minimizing production costs; however, this self-seeking mentality is often at odds with the best interests of the American population, as lowering production costs often means pumping food products full of empty calories. As a direct consequence of the contemporary capitalist food industry, “junk foods,” or those foods that tend to be very high in calories relative to nutrients, abound to such an extent that 50% of the average American’s daily caloric intake can be accounted for by fat and sugar (Albritton 343).

From the point of view of the capitalist food corporations, the “ideal food ingredient for profit purposes is something that is cheap and that consumers crave,” (Albritton 344). Many big businesses have found the perfect profitable candidate in chocolate, which exploits the addictive quality of sweetness and requires relatively low input costs. Today, mass-produced chocolate bars are ubiquitous across the nation, lining the aisles and countertops of every grocery and convenience store, supplied primarily by the chocolate industry’s “Big Five”–Hershey’s, Mars, Nestlé, Cadbury, and Ferero Rocher (Martin, “The rise of big chocolate and race for the global market”). These corporations reap the profits of the American obesity epidemic, aggressively pursuing marketing strategies that enforce ‘brand loyalty from cradle to grave’ for those products that exploit the human craving for sugar, fat, and salt.

However, these large chocolate corporations are not the only ones responsible for pursuing profit-maximizing ends at the expense of consumer health. Rather than competing directly for the same consumer base as the Big Five industrial chocolate powerhouses, emerging “socially conscious corporations” have adopted the aforementioned alternative, values-based marketing strategies. It is in these companies’ best interests to pursue such values-based marketing strategies, as their success is likely enhanced by the evocation of these problematic health halos that accompany claims of socially ethical production. However, by capitalizing on the unsustainable working and environmental conditions that tarnish the reputations of bigger chocolate corporations, socially conscious corporations are selfishly bolstering sales to the detriment of the health of their “ethical consumers.”

In order for ethical consumption to become an authentic and meaningful institution capable of affecting actual positive change, consumers must become more than superficial values-based label-readers. They must view these products with the same skeptical eye with which they would view any product of the capitalist food industry, seeking to further educate themselves not only about the benefits of ethical production, but also about its shortcomings that impact those at home and abroad. Only in this way can ethical consumption truly live up to its potential to become an agent of social and environmental transformation.


Albritton, Robert. “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry.” Food and Culture. 3rd ed. New York: Routledge, 2013. 343-52. Print.

Barham, Elizabeth. “Towards a Theory of Values-based Labeling.” Agriculture and Human Values 19 (2002): 349-60. Kluwer Academic Publishers. Web. 1 May 2015.

Fair Trade: Every Purchase Matters. Fair Trade Certified, 2011. Youtube. Web. 3 May 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7K4G5-ydhS0&gt;.

Fair Trade USA Certification Label. Digital image. Logos & Labels. Fair Trade USA, 2015. Web. 5 May 2015. <http://fairtradeusa.org/resources/logos-labels&gt;.

Giesler, Markus, and Ela Veresiu. “Creating the Responsible Consumer: Moralistic Governance Regimes and Consumer Subjectivity.” Journal of Consumer Research 41.3 (2014): 840-57. Chicago Journals. Web. 2 May 2015.

“History of Fairtrade.” Fairtrade International. Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International, 2011. Web. 3 May 2015.

Martin, Carla. “Alternative trade and virtuous localization/globalization.” AAAS 119x Lecture 18. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 4 Apr. 2015. Lecture.

Martin, Carla. “Modern day Slavery.” AAAS 119x Lecture 15. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 25 Mar. 2015. Lecture.

Martin, Carla. “The rise of big chocolate and race for the global market.” AAAS 119x Lecture 13. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 11 Mar. 2015. Lecture.

Martin, Carla. “Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor.” AAAS 119x Lecture 11. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 4 Mar. 2015. Lecture.

Schuldt, Jonathan P., Dominique Muller, and Norbert Schwarz. “The ”Fair Trade” Effect: Health Halos From Social Ethics Claims.” Social Psychological and Personality Science (2011): 1-9. Sage Publications. Web. 1 May 2015.

Taubes, Gary, and Cristin K. Couzens. Sucrose for Comfort. Digital image. Big Sugar’s Sweet Little Lies. Mother Jones, Nov.-Dec. 2012. Web. 05 May 2015.

“USDA Sweet Chocolate Bar.” HealthGrove. N.p., 2015. Web. 2 May 2015.