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Learn About Organic and Fair Trade Chocolate

In our curriculum at Ecole Chocolat, we address the important issues of sourcing organic chocolate and organic cocoa beans, fair trade chocolate, direct cacao sourcing and promoting sustainable cocoa and chocolate practices.

At Ecole Chocolat, we have seen an increase in the number of students interested in working with chocolate and making chocolate products that meet special needs, such as organic, fair trade, sustainable and functional (i.e., low or no sugar, ingredient-enhanced, raw, no GMO, gluten-free, vegan, etc.). This mirrors the global demand for specialized chocolate products that has grown steadily over the past 10 years.

For our program purposes, using a specialized chocolate is not a problem. There are now more choices, as both artisan and multinational chocolate companies offer products to satisfy different needs. While the techniques of working with chocolate are the same, recipes in our programs can be adapted to meet any dietary goal. I am always amazed at the creativity and ingenuity of our students.

The following updates will help you to understand the state of the industry when it comes to these specialized chocolates.

While organic and fair trade are different issues, they are linked as noted by the Fairtrade Foundation and Fair Trade USA which report: "In Europe, fair trade cocoa has seen 30% in growth year after year and 48% of all fair trade cocoa imported into Europe is also certified organic. In North America, fair trade cocoa has seen 83% in growth year after year. Ninety per cent of all fair trade cocoa imported into North America is also certified organic."

Update on organic chocolate

The organic cocoa market represents a very small share of the total cocoa market, estimated at less than 0.5% of total production. ICCO estimates production of certified organic cocoa is mainly sourced from the following countries: Madagascar, Tanzania, Uganda, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Venezuela, Fiji, India, Sri Lanka and Vanuatu. Approximately 80% of certified organic cocoa comes from Latin America.

The research study Organic Monitor, commissioned by Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International (FLO), estimates the organic cacao market was 25,000 tonnes in 2009 and expected to grow 2-5% by 2013. Major importers of organic cocoa in North America are United Cocoa Processor, Atlantic Cocoa, Dagoba Chocolate (division of Hershey's) and Blommer. In Europe, the major importers are Pronatec, Barry Callebaut, Mapryser and Tradin Organic.

We have seen the choices in organic chocolate increase greatly over just the past five years, as both artisan and multinational chocolate manufacturers continue to grow their range of organic chocolate products. This offers both chocolatiers and artisan bar manufacturers more options.

Cacao is a "family farm" crop with almost 90% of its cultivation, fermentation and drying in the hands of the individual farmer. The reality is that most farmers cannot afford the expensive process of being "certified" organic.

Many of these small farms grow cacao without the help of pesticides, which they can’t afford, so they are by default organic. Talk with the chocolate manufacturer of your choice and ask them about their chocolate. You may find that while the cocoa isn't certified organic it might just be organic by default. We use the term De Facto* Organic.

*de facto = In practice or reality, without being officially established.

Price remains a problem. Depending on quality, organic cocoa beans demand a premium of 10-50% above conventional cocoa beans, according to Curtis Vreeland, researcher for Packaged Facts.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations FAO, industry analysts seem to agree that the future growth of the organic cocoa market will depend more on supply constraints than on increased demand. The rate of growth of demand has already outstripped the rate of supply (consistency and quality) coupled with the high costs of certification itself – there's just not enough to go around and that will keep prices for organic chocolate at a premium. But remember that organic certification does not denote fine flavor. Organic chocolates vary widely in quality. Let you tastebuds be your guide.

The USDA National Organic Program has a table for more information. Simply type "chocolate" or "cocoa" in the field under the title Operations to get a list of certified operations in the chocolate industry which are sold in the U.S.

As well, our Ecole Chocolat Facebook page has periodic news and articles of interest on both organic and fair trade chocolate.

Update on fair trade chocolate

"Fair trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to – and securing the rights of – disadvantaged producers and workers." (FINE, 2001)

According to the ICCO, a fair trade-certified producer must comply with a number of requirements related to social, economic and environmental developments. In addition, labor conditions in these organizations must follow certain standards. The essential characteristic of fair trade cocoa is that producer organizations receive a higher price for their cocoa beans. The fair trade price represents the necessary condition for the producer to have the financial ability to fulfill the above requirements and to cover the certification fees. Other benefits for certified producer organizations are better "capacity-building" and "market access." Presently, cocoa sold with the fair trade label still captures a very low share of the cocoa market (0.1%).

Why is the fair trade share of the cocoa market so low? Certification is expensive for the individual farmer – most can't afford it unless they band together into a cooperative. The downside of joining together is that the profits from premium prices are shared and invested in improvements for all, not necessarily paid directly to each farmer.

Why is certification so expensive? We have to remember that fair trade certification, with all its very heartfelt goals, is also a business – a big business. Fair Trade USA, for example, had close to $10 million in revenue in 2009, using almost half of that for personnel expenses. It's a complex business of certifying on location, collecting and managing fees, maintaining operations and paying salaries and expenses for staff.

Cocoa Certification – KPMG study on the costs, advantages and disadvantages of cocoa certification commissioned by The International Cocoa Organization (ICCO). Note: the researchers only studied the two countries, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, that mainly produce cocoa for mass-market candy and chocolate manufacturers – not fine-flavor chocolate.

BBC's One Watchdog asks the question: Does the fair trade label on your chocolate bar mean 100% fair trade cocoa beans?

Just who certifies cacao?

Fair Trade Certified,™ from the Fair Trade USA organization, guarantees consumers that strict economic, social and environmental criteria were met in the production and trade of cocoa. Click here for a list of their licensed partners in the cocoa category.

Utz Certified, the Dutch non-profit organization, established through The Good Inside Cocoa Programme in 2008, after the success of its program for ethical coffee trading.

The Fairtrade Labeling Organization (FLO), established in 1997, is the worldwide fair trade standard-setting and certification organization. Since 2004 it has been composed of two independent bodies, FLO-I for standard-setting and FLO-Cert Ltd. for fair trade certification and auditing activities.

The Max Havelaar Foundation guarantees small farmers in developing countries a fair price for their produce and intermediates in marketing products. Max Havelaar cocoa was launched in October 1993.

The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) provides a market guarantee for integrity of organic claims. The Organic Guarantee System (OGS) unites the organic world through a common system of standards, verification and market identity.

RainForest Alliance outline their position and work on sustainability in their Sustainable Cocoa Program fact sheet.

Some companies, such as ADM, have their own certification programs: Socially and Environmentally Responsible Agricultural Practices (SERAP).

For our Ecole Chocolat programs, we keep up to date on which manufacturers are now offering certified organic chocolate so students have as wide a choice as possible.

Look for "direct trade" rather than "fair trade"

As I said above, because of the high "middle man" costs of fair trade certification, only the cacao cooperatives and multinational chocolate companies can really afford to be certified.

If you really want to make a difference in the lives of farmers and their families, look instead for chocolate makers who buy their cocoa beans direct from the farmer. In 2013, a group formed who support direct trade rather than fair trade certification: Direct Cacao.

Functional chocolate for health benefits and to address dietary restrictions

There is growth potential for dark chocolate in the functional food sector, with the product carrying most of the heart health claims in the confectionary segment, says Leatherhead Food Research in its June 2011 report Future Directions for Functional Foods. See article below.

According to an article in Progressive Grocer on natural and organic consumers, eight in 10 regularly read ingredient labels for health and nutrition content and express interest in purchasing functional foods with additional health, nutrition and dietary benefits, with 39% “very interested” in these kinds of foods.

Consumers said they’re most interested in foods containing organic ingredients (65%) and low-sodium grocery products (47%), followed by low-fat/low-cholesterol (39%). Functional food products with added calcium (44%), omega-3 (44%), antioxidants (43%), probiotics/prebiotics (38%), and vitamin D (30%) were also popular choices.

The study also revealed interest in specific ingredient-free foods, with one in three natural-product consumers looking to buy allergen-free foods. Shoppers were most likely to report purchasing gluten-free/wheat-free items (25%), followed by dairy-free products (9%). Fewer eschewed soy (6%) or peanuts (4%).

U.S. adults say they want to cut down on gluten or remove it from their diets altogether in 2013, according to a study by NPD Group. The research firm’s bi-weekly study reported 30% of adults claimed to cut down or avoid gluten completely in January. The good news is that most chocolate bars and bonbons are gluten-free.

This interest from consumers spills over into the world of chocolate manufacturers and chocolatiers, where, for example, a hike in demand for lactose-free products prompted leading industrial chocolate supplier Barry Callebaut to reformulate a 100% dairy-free alternative to milk chocolate.

We've found that most chocolate manufacturers now offer sugar-free chocolate products. A few have removed lecithin in response to concerns about genetically modified soy. The increased popularity of high cocoa content, dark chocolate is both a flavor and health consideration for consumers.

On the chocolate and health front, the news has been good – if we stick to low-sugar chocolate products. See our Chocolate News page for all the latest reports on chocolate and health.



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