I’m sure most of you have seen the Martin Scorsese film “Goodfellas” starring Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci, which focuses on main character Henry Hill’s career as a Brooklyn mob wise-guy. It’s a classic portrayal of mobster lifestyle and personalities.
Of course, too often, we give short shrift to the real “goodfellas” in life, since good works don’t make for exciting movie scenes or spectacular headlines.
Let me alert you to just two such people - although I know there are many more in the confectionery industry- Jürgen Rausch, managing director of Rausch Chocolates, and Shawn Askinosie, owner and chocolatemaker of Askinosie Chocolates.
Both of these “goodfellas” not only are actively involved in promoting the sustainability of fine-flavored cocoa beans, but they are passionately working to improve the lives of the farmers that grow those beans.
In chatting with Rausch at the most recently held ISM fair, the 2008 European Candy Kettle Club winner informed me that his company is continuing to invest in teaching farmers how to maximize their crop yield as well as improve bean quality.
Since the company’s debut into single-origin plantation chocolates back in 2000, it’s always been a cooperative effort between Rausch and the farmers. From raw material, fermentation, transportation, processing and cleaning, Rausch has scripted a manual, literally, to help the farmers improve quality, yield and income.
From building cocoa bean storage warehouses to subsidizing educational programs, Rausch remains committed to the betterment of people, product and process in the chocolate industry.
Across the pond, Shawn Askinosie is cut from the same cocoa jute bag. The former defense attorney turned chocolatier has - like Rausch - embarked on a sacred pilgrimage to find good beans and improve the plight of the farmers that grow them.
As Askinosie explained to me in a recent visit (see the April 17 edition of our Sweet & Healthy eNewsletter), there were cocoa farmers in Mexico who didn’t ferment their beans simply because it hadn’t been done before.
In addition to helping improve their cultivation techniques, Askinosie also has helped improve their lives. Besides paying the farmers above Fair Trade prices for the beans, he’s also implemented a profit-sharing program called a Stake in the Outcome. This program, which is based on a business philosophy developed by Jack Stack, provides the farmers not only with extra income (10% of profits realized by Askinosie Chocolate go to the farmers), but a very transparent purview of what Aksinosie’s bean-to-bar chocolate business is all about.
“They get to see how little money I make,” he jokes.
It also provides consumers with an exact accounting of where the cocoa beans come from, to the point that Askinosie even prints the farmers’ photos on the wrappers of his chocolate bars.
Just recently, Askinosie began sourcing beans from the Philippines, a first for that country going back to the Marcos’ reign. This summer, he looks to produce chocolate from beans sourced in Liberia or Tanzania.
Both of these men have travelled thousand of miles to connect with the people that make their livelihoods and, I suspect, joy possible. Consequently, I thought it was worthwhile to recognize their efforts.
Of course, I’m sure there are thousands more “goodfellas” in the industry, which I hope I’ll get a chance to meet and eventually publicize, as well. In today’s violent and vitriolic world, we need to ensure that good works by good men and women receive their due.