Is third-party certification the answer to cocoa sustainability?

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Bernie Pacyniak

Don’t know if you had the chance to view Candy Industry’s webinar, “Preserving Chocolate for Future Generations,” yesterday.

Sponsored by ADM Cocoa, Blommer Chocolate Co. and Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate, the one-hour webinar featured presentations by Michiel Hendriksz, director of sustainability for ADM Cocoa; Kip Walk, corporate director for cocoa and sustainability; Blommer Chocolate Co. and Taco Terheijden, sustainable cocoa manager, Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate.

Oh, by the way, if you’re interested in seeing the webinar, simply go to our website, register and then you can view it at your leisure.

But back to the webinar. All of these gentlemen understand well the challenges facing farmers in cocoa-growing regions. Moreover, each of the companies has invested millions of dollars in trying to improve not only the economics behind being a small cocoa farmer, but the social and environmental conditions prevalent in these far-flung rural areas.

As Blommer Chocolate’s Walk pointed out, he and his colleagues have similar programs going on in the fields, all focused on preserving cocoa and chocolate for the future by helping farmers today.  Issues abound, from forced child labor (and yes, it’s still occurring) to poor crop yields; from quality concerns to the loss of lands to other crops; from inadequate infrastructure to global market shifts.

“We’re all in this together,” he pointed out.

In Terheijden’s presentation, Cargill’s sustainability cocoa manager discussed the value of certification labels, namely UTZ, the Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade.  Although Cargill works with all three, it has a preference for UTZ, he said, because it matches the company’s objectives.

But as one of the questions posed at the end of the presentations emphasized, for the most part, consumers in the United States are not aware or interested in Fairtrade certification. The webinar participant asked what could manufacturers do to raise that level of interest.

Well , the good news is that nearly all of the major multinationals have committed themselves to varying levels of using third-party certified cocoa for chocolate products, with Mars probably the most active player on this front. I expect that all of the companies will ramp up their marketing program as their availability of such cocoa increases.

Remember, third-party certified cocoa represents less than — and I’m being generous here —10% of all cocoa used. It will take some time before third-party certification can approach significant volumes.

In addition, it’s only one tool in the toolbox as Walk said. Moreover, there are many small and midsized chocolate companies that have personal commitments in ensuring their cocoa beans are sustainable and that farmers are paid a premium. In their case, third-party certification is superseded by individual entrepreneurs and executives adhering to an honor-bound code of doing what’s right.

Perhaps the cocoa community could come together on a certification standard embracing all the current certification organizations and allowing individual guarantees as well? In the end, third-party certification won’t solve all the issues facing the cocoa global community, but it’s certainly an effective component within a multi-pronged strategy aimed at preserving cocoa for future generations.

Finally, I have to point out a wonderful story that appeared in the Chicago Tribune about Flesor’s Candy Kitchen. Briefly, it’s about two sisters resurrecting their grandfather’s candy store in Tuscola, Ill. In doing so, they’re also revitalizing the small town’s business community.

It’s a story that brings home the importance of preserving cocoa and chocolate.

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