getting fresh: Shawn Askinosie: an activist and an artisan
I hadn’t been to visit my brother in Springfield, Mo., for a number of years. This past Easter weekend, my wife and I packed our bags and loaded up Big Blue, our hard-to-ignore Dodge Grand Caravan, for the 500-mile trek. My other brother and his son joined us as we drove down from Chicago on the flat-as-can-be portion of I-55 in Illinois, then past St. Louis onto the more interesting and hilly I-44 segment.
Although this was meant to be primarily a family visit, I recalled that Shawn Askinoise of Askinoise Chocolate (www.askinosiechocolate.com) was based in Springfield. So prior to setting off, I e-mailed Askinosie on the slim chance he might have some time for a short, “informal” visit.
As it turned out, Askinosie was going to be at his facility on Saturday around 11 a.m. for a meeting and graciously agreed to see me.
I neglected to tell him that I was going to bring some of the Pacyniak clan along, but figured he wouldn’t mind a few chocolate aficionados hanging around. Packing Big Blue with a few nieces and nephews -- even though they’re all young adults ranging from ages 21 to 35, who can resist getting a peak at a chocolate factory? -- I headed toward the industrial area of downtown Springfield.
What was supposed to be a 15-minute “greet, meet and buy some chocolate” stopover turned into a full-blown tour, one that detailed Askinosie’s passion and perseverance in becoming a small batch chocolate manufacturer sourcing 100% of his beans directly from farmers.
The former defense attorney explained how his interest in baking eventually became a sacred pilgrimage to Theobroma, one that emphasized respect for the land, the bean, the people that cultivate it and the processes that create chocolate.
During this pilgrimage, Askinosie has helped hundreds of cocoa farmers improve their techniques, even introducing fermentation to many who weren’t even aware of its role in developing flavor. In doing so, the farmers have not only increased quality and yield, but they’ve also boosted their income.
Besides paying the farmers above Fair Trade prices for the beans, Askinosie 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. Askinosie’s attention to detail regarding sustainability and traceability -- what else would one expect from a former lawyer? -- carries over onto the processing side; he even presses his own cocoa butter, a rare accomplishment for an artisan chocolate-maker.
But just when you think the fellow couldn’t do more, Askinosie surprises. For example, he’s begun sourcing beans from the Philippines -- a first for that country, going back to the Marcos’ reign. In addition, he’s reached out to local school children, both elementary and high school, as a means of teaching them about cocoa and chocolate.
For example, working with Drury University, Askinosie established the Cocoa Honors program for a select group of students from Central High School in Springfield. The 18-month program teaches students about the cocoa industry “within the context of the history, culture and economy of Africa.”
To drive home the “bean-to-bar” experience, the students will travel to either Liberia or Tanzania this summer. Recognizing that such a trip requires substantial funding, Askinosie produced five single-origin chocolate bars made with cocoa beans from Liberia and placed them for auction on eBay. All monies raised from the auction, which began April 3 at 8 p.m. and will end on Sunday, April 11, at 9 p.m., will underwrite the trip.
This “nano-batch was crafted from a one-kilo bean sample received from Lofa County, Liberia” and “is bursting with notes of red berries and jasmine, hints of roasted cocoa and coffee, with a long lingering earthy finish,” Askinosie says. Having sampled several of his products, I don’t doubt these bars deliver a wonderful experience.
As it turns out, my short “meet-and-greet” turned out to be a wonderful encounter with a chocolate-maker who’s dedicated to his craft and his conscience. I encourage you all to visit his Web site, which details more about his company, his products and his ideals.
In addition, help out the Cocoa Honors students by making a bid on eBay. It’s people like Askinosie that remind us why the chocolate industry, which brings so much pleasure to those who consume its products, also can deliver a host of other joys and opportunities through so many other avenues.
Koko's Confectionery & Novelty names new product development manager
Koko’s Confectionery & Novelty names new product development manager Angie Baer has been appointed the new product development manager for Koko’s Confectionery & Novelty, Cockeysville, Md., a division of A&A Global Industries.
In this role, Baer will oversee a variety of projects from concept development to store shelf. Her expertise is in conceiving compelling products and overseeing sourcing, manufacturing, branding and packaging.
Previously, Baer worked on development projects for Target Corp., where she managed the processes necessary to deliver successful products from various factories.
For more information about Koko’s Confectionery & Novelty, visit www.kokos.com.
Bazooka Candy Brands debuts sugar-free version of Ring Pop
Starting this spring, Bazooka Candy Brand, a division of Topps, Inc., New York, will begin selling a sugar-free variety of its bestselling novelty product: Ring Pop. The offering will roll out at Wal-Mart and other retailers nationwide.
Sugar Free Ring Pop will come in three flavors -- blue raspberry, watermelon and strawberry -- and will be sweetened with Splenda. All Ring Pop products are certified kosher.
“When it comes to desserts and special treats, many families are looking for sugar-free products,” notes Ari Weinstock, director of marketing for Bazooka Candy Brands. “Therefore, we’re thrilled to introduce Sugar Free Ring Pop to fans of the original, providing them with additional, more dental-friendly options to choose from.” Other Bazooka Candy Brands products include Baby Bottle Pop, Push Pop and Bazooka gum.
For more information, visit www.topps.com.
SNICKERS celebrates 80 years
This year marks the 80th anniversary of Mars Chocolate North America’s iconic SNICKERS bar, a well-known combination of peanut butter nougat topped with caramel and roasted peanuts and covered in milk chocolate that was first introduced to the public back in 1930 and sold for just five cents.
Named for a favorite horse of the Mars family, the SNICKERS went through several changes over time. From 1933 to 1935, it was a two-piece bar called Double SNICKERS; in 1936, it returned to its original single format.
Over the course of the next 50 years, the bar evolved into various sizes. In 1979, Fun-Size SNICKERS hit store shelves. King-Size SNICKERS was introduced in 1983, and bite-size SNICKERS Miniatures became available in 1990.
In 1970, the SNICKERS MUNCH Bar came out, later changing to just MUNCH -- a blend of fresh-roasted peanuts in a real golden butter crunch.
In 1984, SNICKERS was the Official Snack Food of the Olympic Games in Los Angeles. SNICKERS launched its first ice cream product, the SNICKERS Ice Cream Cone, in 1994, followed by the SNICKERS Ice Cream Bar in 1996.
Most recently, SNICKERS teamed up with comedian Betty White to kick off the new “You’re not you when you’re hungry” campaign during the 2010 Super Bowl, which was named the No. 1 ad by critics such as USA Today.
For more information about SNICKERS, visit www.snickers.com.
sweet of the week: Silly Seeds
New Silly Seeds from Riverside, Mo.-based Sunflower Food & Spice Co., maker of Original Sunny Seed Drops, are an excellent source of antioxidants, Vitamin E, Vitamin B, folic acid, antioxidants, protein and fiber. The fruit-flavored, candy-coated sunflower seeds come in eight colorful “seed packets” featuring the following fun character names/flavors: Boogie Berry, Laughing Lemon, Cha Cha Cherry, Tangerine Tickle, Giggling Grape, Geeky Green Apple, Fruity Tooty and Wacky Watermelon. Each 2-oz. package has die-cut windows that showcase the product inside. The suggested retail price per package is $1.49 -$1.99 per package.
For more information, call 1-800-377-4693 or visit www.sunflowerfoodcompany.com.