getting fresh: Cocoa like caviar
Will chocolate be worth its weight in gold? Will this food of the gods become a luxury only the high priests of finance can afford, something akin to caviar? A recent article in the British newspaper, The Independent, speculated on the possibility of such a scenario 20 years from now.
Quoting London chocolatier Marc Demarquette, the article cites several reasons why chocolate, specifically cocoa, is in peril. Pointing to a doubling of cocoa prices during the last six years, the writer Anthea Gerrie suggests that a decline in quality, quantity and general interest in farming cocoa beans as a crop will have dire consequences for future harvests.
One of the most salient points Gerrie makes is that the young people who reside in the cocoa-growing areas are leaving the country to seek their fortunes in the big city as opposed to spending time cultivating the lands for 80 cents a day.
Interestingly, the World Cocoa Foundation celebrated its 10th anniversary last month during its 18th partnership meeting in Washington, D.C. The three-day event featured a variety of presentations addressing the very same issues that Gerrie brought up in her article. On the Foundation’s website (www.worldcocoafoundation.org), I was able to skim through several PDFs of presentations defining the challenges that the cocoa and chocolate industry faces in the coming years.
Co-keynote speaker Frank Mars’ PowerPoint slides - yes that Mars - details the impact substandard farmer incomes, pests and diseases, deforestation and community destabilization has had on the Ivory Coast and other countries’ production and quality output.
The Mars plan for changing this sad state of affairs revolves around a three-point program that’s designed to improve environmental management of cocoa growing areas, invigorate rural communities and improve farmer income.
There are slides showing a cocoa pod composting business model, which uses technology, machinery and soil microorganism to help manage pests and diseases, farmer-owned nurseries, designed to grow new trees, and social programs aimed at digging clean water wells and buiding bridges with recycled materials. Mars also addresses cocoa certification as a tool for improving conditions for the farmer, and thus making sustainable cocoa a reality. One of the callouts in the slide hits home: (One) Cannot certify poverty…certification must be credible.
Mars goes on to say that the company’s entire cocoa supply will be certifiable by 2020. Certainly, certification is one of the tools that many cocoa and chocolate companies see as a means of improving conditions and consequences for cocoa-growing farmers, but let’s not use it as a means of minimizing direct involvement with farmers and the cocoa-growing regions.
I can only applaud the efforts made by Mars Inc. as well as several of the other major players in cocoa, such Hershey, Nestlé, Kraft Foods, Ferrero, Barry Callebaut, Cargill, ADM, Blommer, and countless others who have invested millions of dollars into not only addressing child labor issues, but improving cocoa communities throughout the world.
I would also like to bring some attention to midsized companies, as highlighted by Candy Industry’s cover feature this month on ICAM, who have been directly involved in this process for decades.
Angelo Agostoni, president and head of sourcing for the Lecco, Italy-based company knows well what direct involvement can do, He has seen quality and quantity improvements in the fields of South America thanks to improved tree management, building of drying and fermentation centers, and personal commitment.
“We can make a difference for a farmer who owns between two to three hectares and yields only a ton per year,” Agostoni asserts.” Today, there are areas where we see 30 to 40 tons per year from one hectare.”
In fielding this month’s cover story, it became clear that this wasn’t an overnight endeavor for Agostoni. His passion and perseverance for fine cocoa as well as his direct relationships with farmers to improve their capabilities and revenues make him a pioneer in what now has become a critical turning point for the cocoa industry.
In one of his final slides, Mars asks the question, “Are we willing to do what it takes to make cocoa production sustainable?” Perhaps it’s time for all of us to ramp it up a bit more. It’s a beautiful industry; we don’t want to make it an exclusive one.
Oh, by the way, an ounce of Beluga caviar goes for $140. And gold - at press time was trading at just under $1,400 an ounce. Typically, most chocolate bars range between $1.00 to $5.00…today.
NECCO on the block
Revere, Mass.-based The New England Confectionery Co., Inc., commonly known as NECCO, announced today that it has retained New York City-based Sawaya Segalas & Co., LLC, a leading consumer investment banking firm, to identify a strategic partner or explore a possible sale of its business.
The 160-year-old multi-line company manufactures and distributes well-recognized brands such as Sweethearts Conversation Hearts, NECCO Wafers, Clark Bar, Haviland and Mary Jane confections.
During the course of 2010, “NECCO has worked diligently to improve production efficiencies, quality, delivery and cost, and has made significant progress toward each initiative,” the company states. As a result, service levels for Halloween and Christmas 2010 had improved compared to the same period in 2009, it pointed out.
Although NECCO’s board of directors believe that the company has the ability to continue operating in its current form, “finding a strategic partner is the appropriate next step to take full advantage of NECCO's compelling growth and distribution opportunities,” they contend.
"We are confident that NECCO will be recognized for the value it can bring the right partner,” explains Dave Smith, the company’s coo. “With the right strategic partner, who can leverage distribution to a broader customer base, NECCO presents tremendous growth opportunities in light of the value embodied in its brands and the substantial operational improvements made this year."
NECCO expects its business to continue uninterrupted while it explores various opportunities. The company is still in the process of delivering product to customers for the 2010 holiday season and Valentine's Day 2011 and remains committed to servicing them for Halloween 2011.
For more information, visit www.necco.com.
Callebaut launches Fairtrade chocolate line
Barry Callebaut, the Wieze, Belgium-based supplier of cocoa and chocolate products, has launched a new line of Fairtrade chocolate products under its gourmet brand, Callebaut.
“As the global leader in cocoa and chocolate, a focus on sustainability is an imperative for our company, not an option,” says Juergen Steinemann, Barry Callebaut’s ceo. "For a long time now we [have been] actively engaged in origin countries by working together with farmers and cooperatives directly and at the same time we have been involved in various initiatives and projects, all contributing to a more sustainable cocoa supply chain. Our association with Fairtrade, for example, goes back many years and we are proud to be a Fairtrade preferred supplier of certified chocolate.”
Callebaut’s four classic recipes – 811 (dark), 823 (milk), W2 (white) and 70-30-38 (dark) – will be available in Fairtrade certified formulations, called Callebaut Fairtrade beginning January 2011. The new range of Callebaut Fairtrade certified chocolates offer customers the opportunity to develop new artisanal products with Fairtrade-certified chocolate. As part of its Fairtrade marketing program, it will provide customers with promotional point-of-sale materials, including posters, doorstickers and brochures.
Olivier Schucht, v.p. - gourmet division at Barry Callebaut, points out that the company has been receiving “requests for certified products from Gourmet customers across the globe. The move to offer the four Callebaut classics also in a Fairtrade variety has been welcomed by chocolatiers and pastry chefs worldwide.”
Callebaut estimates that more than five million people – farmers, workers and their families – across 60 developing countries participate in the international Fairtrade system, including cocoa, sugar and natural vanilla producers.
In order to attain the Fairtrade system certification, farmer organizations must comply with the economic, environmental and social standards defined by Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International (FLO).
FLO is a non-profit, multi-stakeholder organization made up of 24 member organizations worldwide. It is responsible for the strategic direction of Fairtrade, setting the Fairtrade standards and supporting producers in developing countries.
Harry & David Sweeten Packages for Troops' Holidays
Gourmet gifts retailer Harry & David will help troops far from home this holiday season enjoy an extra special treat in their Soldiers' Angels care packages - Harry & David's Moose Munch Bars. The "Support Our Troops Moose Munch Bar Drive" has resulted in over 115,000 bars sent to soldiers overseas in the past and is returning for the 2010 winter holidays.
Harry & David stores nationwide are offering customers the opportunity to purchase two Moose Munch bars for $4 (one bar is usually $2.50) and donate one of the two bars for the Moose Munch Bar Drive along with a personal message to a soldier. Soldiers' Angels will distribute this new round of bars in its Wrapped in Holiday Spirit care packages and Harry & David is assisting with shipping.
"We're delighted to support our troops on the front lines," said Steve Heyer, Harry & David’s ceo. "The program gives our customers the opportunity to give back to soldiers who have already given so much of themselves for our country."
Soldiers' Angels is aiming to send a holiday care package to every deployed service member this Holiday Season. Care packages will include snacks, candy, hot chocolate, socks, a handmade blanket, a travel mug and a personalized note.
Indie Candy Offers Allergen-Free Christmas Candy
Indie Candy based in Birmingham, Ala., wants to ensure that no stockings will be left hanging empty this year because of reactions to allergens. All of Indie Candy's all-natural, allergen-free Christmas products are free of artificial flavors, preservatives and dyes. They do not contain any: gluten/wheat, casein/dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, eggs, fish, or shellfish.
Indie Candy's products are also manufactured in a facility that is dedicated to being “Big 8 Allergen-Free., thus leaving no risk of cross-contamination.
The company’s holiday line up includes gummi Christmas trees, hard candy lollipops shaped like Christmas lights and snowflakes and dark chocolate Santa and angel lollipops. Indie Candy's goal is to make sure no child is left out due to their allergies or food sensitivities. All of Indie Candy's products are GFCFSF and Feingold-approved.
For more information, visit www.indiecandy.com.
Sweet of the week: Ice BreakersFrost
The Hershey Co. has launched Ice Breakers Frost sugar-free mints, "The only mint coated with an intense combination of xylitol, cooling and flavor crystals." The new mints deliver a surprisingly powerful and enjoyable experience. And are available in Wintercool and peppermint flavors.
"Ice Breakers Frost mints are designed for those who are looking for a strong mint, but don't want to sacrifice taste. The mints feature the same great flavor of our core Ice Breakers mints, which is then frosted with a combination of xylitol, cooling and flavor crystals for a uniquely powerful taste and texture," said Anna Lingeris, spokeswoman for Ice Breakers Frost mints and The Hershey Co. "The result is a satisfying and powerfully cool taste experience." Ice Breakers Frost mints are now available in 1.2-oz. plastic containers at participating mass, grocery, drug and specialty retailers and retail for $1.99.
For more information, visit www.ice-breakers.com.