Triple Pundit has long advocated for fair trade products, but we acknowledge the challenges. The price is often a hurdle, so convincing consumers to make the switch is an uphill climb. While it is true that forsaking that favorite candy bar for a fair trade chocolate treat is a positive step, the fact remains that fair trade can make even a large difference at scale: provided of course that suppliers and farmers around the world can keep up with the demand.
That's why we're pleased to hear that Palo Alto-based Bon Appetit Management Company (BAMCO) will soon introduce fair trade chocolate at over 400 kitchens at universities, corporate, and specialty cafes across the United States.
Chocolate is the end result of an industry that is a perfect product for fair trade. Plenty of tales exist that describe the cocoa industry’s uncertain future, and then you have the brutal conditions under which many children toil. For many companies like Ben &Jerry’s, however, making a massive switch to fair trade chocolate has its challenges, and not just because of the cost differential--integrating those ingredients throughout one’s entire supply chain creates those headaches as well. For one large food service company, however, the switch to fair trade chocolate could pay huge dividends, and not just because their customers in Cisco’s, eBay’s, and Yahoo’s cafeterias can soon munch on chocolate chip cookies brownies.
The company that benefits from BAMCO's move is Cordillera of Medellin, Colombia, which harvests and processes two types of cocoa beans. These cocoa varietals, Criollo and Trinitario, are more expensive and are generally judged to be of a higher quality that that of Forestero beans, which are more bitter and end up in the cheaper chocolates found at your supermarket’s checkout stands.
Where Cordillera stands out is that its chocolate products come in large sizes suitable for food service companies, not just in the poshly packaged bars typical of fair trade chocolate products that you may buy at your favorite local shop. For Bon Appetit, this arrangement works out because while the company pays a small premium for this chocolate, not a steep differential that discouraged caterers from embracing fair chocolate. Cordillera and folks who work in Colombia’s cocoa industry also win because the chocolate is manufactured in Colombia, not abroad as is usually the case with chocolate processing. Manufacturing the chocolate in Colombia not only makes it easier to gauge quality from bean to bar, but keeps money in Colombia. Hence you have more local investment in education, health care, and infrastructure, which is why paying a little more for fair trade products makes such a difference, according to Katie Barrow of Fair Trade USA.
For the US$16 billion that Americans annually spend on chocolate, agreements like those between Bon Appetit and Cordillera makes this decadent treat a little sweeter. Plus if you try most fair trade chocolate products, the quality is hard to beat: just something to keep in mind in the event you have not settled on what to give your sweetheart on Monday.
Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.