How was your favorite chocolate produced??


“Organic,” for example, refers to strict adherence to environmental and processing requirements. Peter Meehan, co-founder and CEO of Newman’s Own Organics, notes that his company’s chocolate (my personal favorite: Newman’s Own Organic Orange Dark Chocolate), certified by third-party agency Oregon Tilth, is made according to strict U.S. organic standards, using cacao beans grown without pesticides for at least three years and without GMOs. But because the term says nothing about, for example, economic or social sustainability, it can’t tell you much else.


“Fair Trade” is another common chocolate label, guaranteeing that a fair price was paid to local farmers for the cacao beans, fair labor practices are being observed, and local communities are being supported. But farmers have to pay thousands of dollars [PDF] for that certification, and Gordon points out that money that farmers could’ve otherwise invested in their employees, land, or communities is instead going first to farmer cooperatives and then to international certifiers and auditors*, adding more links in the chain between the bean and the customer.

While these labels can provide some level of comfort to conscious consumers, the companies using them usually don’t have direct relationships with their suppliers. It adds another link in the chain — and more room for potentially shady practices — between bean and bar.

Look for the shortest supply chain whenever possible.

Despite all the fancy labeling options, “it’s the companies that don’t feel the need to [fulfill the requirement] of the certification that are in fact doing the best work rather than abdicating responsibility to a third party,” Gordon says. These bars might cost significantly more than what you can get at Duane Reade (think $7 and up per bar), but that’s because you are paying a fair price that actually accounts for the labor, shipment, and processing of the beans, instead of one artificially subsidized by abusive practices.

Clay advises that instead of a Fair Trade label, consumers should look for words like “direct trade” and bars with single origins. According to Susie Wyshak, a food business consultant specializing in chocolate and confections, if the packaging says the chocolate is “bean-to-bar,” then “the company whose name appears on the chocolate bar has made that chocolate starting with the actual cacao bean.”

March 20, 2014Permalink Leave a comment

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