Changing the World One Bar at a Time
Call it chocolate with a mission. Two fledgling chocolate companies — Washington, D.C.-based Divine Chocolate and Theo Chocolate, based in Seattle, — have set out to woo consumers with premium offerings while building businesses around the principles of fair trade and social and environmental responsibility.
“Heavenly chocolate with a heart” — that’s the tagline for Divine Chocolate, which officially launched in the United States on Feb. 14. Divine U.S. is the sibling arm of a British company established a decade ago by members of Ghana-based cocoa farmer cooperative Kuapa Kokoo with support from investors including Comic Relief and the Body Shop. Divine U.S. also is part-owned by Kuapa Kokoo with investment support from several nonprofit/development groups.
Divine’s mission is to improve the livelihoods of small cocoa producers in Ghana by enabling them to share in the profits of the company’s branded chocolate sales. “We have a goal of getting farmers farther up the value chain,” explains Erin Gorman, CEO of Divine U.S.
All the cocoa used in Divine Chocolate bars is purchased from Kuapa Kokoo on Fair Trade terms, which means that farmers receive a guaranteed minimum price for their cocoa plus a “social premium” that is invested in community projects. To date, the projects have included building schools, digging wells and financing a mobile medical clinics program.
In the United Kingdom, Divine Chocolate is sold in leading retail chains including Tesco, Sainsbury and Asda, and Gorman is working toward broad-based domestic distribution as well. The products are available now domestically in a number of independent retail outlets and natural food stores. The chocolate also is sold to organizers of school fundraisers and to churches and other religious groups.
Packaging for the bars is decorated with traditional African symbols. For a 1.5-oz. bar, the suggested retail price is $1.25 - $1.75; for a 3.5-oz. bar, it’s $2.49 - $2.79.
Like Divine, 15-month-old Theo Chocolate has a strong ethical agenda.
Company founder Joseph Whinney, a long-time advocate of sustainable agriculture, describes Theo as a “triple bottom line company: people, planet, profit.”
Theo makes high-end bars and hand-produced boxed chocolates at its small factory in Seattle. All products are organic and Fair Trade Certified.
“We’re rooted in improving the lives of everyone in the supply chain,” says Debra Music, vice president of sales and marketing. “What we’re trying to do is define the intersection of world class chocolate-making with sustainable practices.”
A passionate commitment to its mission is paying off for Theo. Since production began in March 2006, business has been going even better than expected. “We had a phenomenal launch year,” says Music.
Theo bars are sold by hundreds of retailers nationwide and have been approved for rollout in Whole Foods, Hannaford and Shaw’s supermarkets. The fledgling chocolate maker also has been recognized with several awards, including three medals in the International Academy of Chocolate Awards in London last fall.
Three-ounce single origin bars have a suggested retail price of $5.99; 2-ounce bars sold under the brand name 3400 Phinney sell for $3.29. Limited shelf-life boxed chocolates are sold to retailers only in the Northwest at prices of $24 for a 12-piece box and $12.99 for a six-piece.
Price resistance hasn’t been a sticking point for the company so far. “It’s our responsibility to educate consumers so they understand why the price point is higher,” says Music. “It’s a combination of the fact that the product is high quality and we’re passing [part of the profits] back to the growers, who are growing organically and sustainably.”
— By Mary Ellen Kuhn
— By Mary Ellen Kuhn