getting fresh: Social, ethical marketing gains momentumThe chocolate industry has come a long way since 2001 when the infamous Reuters headlines claimed evidence of forced child labor on cocoa farms in West Africa. Millions upon millions of dollars have been spent on determining the extent of the problem and coming up with bona fide solutions to -- if not eradicate it -- then certainly minimize its occurrence.
The work is ongoing, and there’s much more to be done involving documentation, education and regulation. Having had the opportunity to see those efforts first-hand, I can attest that it’s neither easy nor quick.
One thing I’m certain of, however, is that seemingly dramatic solutions such as boycotting chocolate are totally off-base. It’s somewhat akin to cutting one’s arm off to fix a fracture or cure an infection.
Aside from the concerted broad-based effort by all parties to address the child labor problem, a program that really hasn’t received enough press, there’s been another positive offshoot resulting from those headlines – the growth of small, midsize and even large chocolate and cocoa processing companies trying to better the plight of the farmer and his/her family as well as improve cocoa bean quality.
In Candy Industry’s November issue, Jürgen Rausch, president and CEO of Rausch Chocolates is featured on the cover. The 2008 recipient of the European Candy Kettle Club award launched his Plantagen Schokolade line of single-origin chocolates in 1999 and hasn’t looked back since, re-establishing an appreciation for fine-flavored cocoa products in Germany, Europe and beyond.
Simultaneously, Rausch has worked diligently to encourage and support cocoa farmers who cultivate fine-flavored cocoas, particularly since they account for only 5% of the world’s total cocoa output.
Luckily, Rausch isn’t the only one focused on helping the farmer, as dozens of companies following that same path recently have emerged recently. The principals and chief executives of companies such as Guittard Chocolate Co., Theo Chocolate, Tcho, Divine Chocolate, Amano Artisan Chocolate, Askinosie Chocolate and countless others are directly involved in the purchase of cocoa beans from farmers. In all these cases, the key here involves eliminating the middle men, who in most cases wind up carving up proceeds from the sale of cocoa beans and leaving less for the farmer.
More importantly, this movement to “close the loop” as Timothy Childs of Tcho frequently emphasizes, between grower and consumer, is gaining ground. And thanks to Curtis Vreeland, our organic confectionery contributor, I came across another newcomer on the scene: Pacari.
Founded by Ecuadorian entrepreneurs Santiago Peralta and Carla Barboto, Pacari, which means “nature” in Quechua, an indigenous language of Ecuador, lays claim to being the first “bean to bar” producer of chocolate in that country.
Located only a few hours’ drive from a select group of cocoa bean producers, the two owners ensure that only the best beans are selected and then processed locally. In addition, they just launched their line of products in the United States and Europe this year. The 100% organic line features regional bars (Esmeraldas with 60% cacao, Manabi with 6% cacao and Los Rios with 72% cacao) that accent different flavor notes within certain growing areas as well as Raw Chocolate bars (70% and 100% cacao) that are minimally processed (no roasting of beans) to provide higher antioxidant levels and more complex flavor profiles.
As with many of the companies involved in direct buying of cocoa beans, the owners are committed to building a “business based on socially and environmentally sustainable principles.”
Skeptics out there -- and I’ve been known to be among them -- might venture an opinion that this is just pure marketing hype. Having met and talked to many of the principals cited, I honestly can say that these executives are for real. Because they deal personally with the farmers, they have seen the labor and care required to produce a truly fine crop. They also understand that fair and just compensation – coupled with educational and technical support – is the only way to preserve such effort. Moreover, many of them are involved in subsidizing programs that not only improve quality of the beans, but also focus on educating farmers and their children.
One may say that this all stems from self-interest. If so, it’s doing a great deal of good for people that need it the most.
Oh yeah, one final news item that just came across my desk: Barry Callebaut has announced that it and Biolands – the largest African exporter of certified organic cocoa, based in Tanzania – have started a tree-planting project with the support of Sarotti and the Internet portal, Utopia. More than 250,000 cocoa seedlings were nurtured in more than 100 tree nurseries in various villages of the Mbeya region, in southwest Tanzania. In about three months, the resulting saplings will be strong enough for planting in order to rejuvenate the existing cocoa plantations. The two companies also will plant an additional 10,000 crop and shade trees to increase biodiversity and yield.
Seems to me that the socially conscious chocolate movement is here to stay.
Nestle launches luxury lineDespite the sagging economy, Vevey, Switzerland-based Nestle, together with Belgian chocolatier Pierre Marcolini, plans to launch a range of luxury chocolates. That’s according to an Oct. 23 Reuters article. The new chocolates were created to complement Nestle’s Nespresso coffee business. With an 8.9% rise in food and beverage organic growth (Jan.-Sept. ’08) and a 9.1% rise in confectionery organic growth (Jan.-Sept. ’08), the company plans to expand its premium product offerings. In the article, Nestle’s head of marketing and sales Lars Olafsson commented that emerging markets and premium products are making up the strongest growth areas. The Nespresso chocolates are Nestle’s way of taking advantage of those areas.
For more information, visit www.nestle.com.
Functional chocolates go private labelIn collaboration with biotechnological multinational company Natraceutical Group, Natra has created the first range of functional and nutritional cocoa and chocolate products directed toward private label brands, according to the company. One of Natra’s new lines, Chocolactive, features five chocolate bar varieties, including Premium Plain Chocolate, with polyphenols and antioxidant effects, Premium Milk Chocolate with polyphenols, Fiber Chocolate, Energy Chocolate and Low-Lactose Chocolate. The company also offers Vital’Crusty candy bars -- a whole grain cookie covered in cream, yogurt and red fruits, and enrobed in chocolate.
With the international private label market increasing, the two companies’ goal is to provide international retailers with innovative products at competitive prices. Natra has invested almost six million euros on for machinery and research and development for its NatraZahor plant, located in Onati, Spain.
For more information, visit www.natra.es.
Feed Your Soul expands wholesale offeringsJersey City, N.J.-based Feed Your Soul recently introduced five new cookie varieties and a new packaging design, in addition to earning kosher certification and forming partnerships with KINGS supermarkets and Gourmet Guru. Its all-natural and now kosher cookies will come in ecologically friendly boxes in the following flavors: Crispy Chocolate Chip, Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk, Chocolate Chip Mint, White Chocolate Snickerdoodle and Nutty Peanut Butter. The new items will be distributed by Gourmet Guru and sold in KINGS Supermarkets.
Feed Your Soul products currently are available in New York City’s Dean & Deluca, Garden of Eden, Amish Market, Westside Market and Fairway; they’re also sold on Saks Fifth Avenue’s Web site, www.saksfifthavenue.com.
“Feed Your Soul has always been a pioneer in the gourmet food marketplace, baking decadent, all natural cookies with innovative recipes that make it possible for cookie lovers to buy an oven fresh product straight off the shelf,” says Mya Jacobson, founder of the company. “The company’s new partnerships with Gourmet Guru and KINGS Supermarkets allow us to align our products in a way that will excite our current customers while reaching out to an entirely new consumer base.”
For more information, visit www.feedyoursoulcookies.com.
PCI Co. acquires US FoodsSt. Louis-based Performance Chemicals & Ingredients (PCI) Company has acquired Lincoln, Neb.-based cereal and food ingredient business US Foods. A subsidiary of Innovative Grain Technologies, Inc., US Foods manufactures and packages a variety of organic, natural, functional and nutraceutical cereal and ingredient products. After the acquisition, US Foods employees will remain at the Lincoln facility, along with production, R&D and customer support.
“We’re very excited about the opportunity the new ownership presents to our organization,” says Rick Williams, founder of US Foods and president of the new company. “It will be a focus business within PCI Company and we therefore look forward to offering our customers an even higher level of support and service.”
For more information, visit www.u-s-foods.com.
sweet of the week: Crispy Cat barsWith the growth of organic and dark chocolate confections continually growing, it’s no wonder Joel Schantz, owner of Tree Huggin’ Treats, put it all together. Crispy Cat bars are made with at least 70% organic ingredients, including dark chocolate and brown rice crisps. Offered in three flavors -- Mint Coconut, Roasted Peanut and Toasted Almond -- the bars are all-natural, dairy-free, gluten-free, non-GMO, vegan and kosher, and contain no preservatives. Crispy Cat bars are carried by natural food distributor United Natural Foods and are available in 791 stores across the United States.
For more information, visit www.crispycatcandybars.com.