Aisle Spy

Chocolate with a conscience: the rise in the ethical bar

The Netherlands’ bestselling chocolate brand is launching its ‘100% slave free’ business in the UK, as consumers become increasingly interested in the journey from bean to bar.

10 January 2019

Ethical chocolate was something chocolatier Paul A. Young tipped last year to become a major sweet spot. It encompasses everything from fair working conditions and pay, to a traceable and transparent supply chain, to sustainable packaging and limiting food waste.

While British brands have been bubbling away in the area, this trend is about to get a boost from Dutch company Tony’s Chocolonely, which is bringing its “100% slavery free” chocolate to the UK. It will launch seven 180g bars and four 50g bars exclusively into Selfridges on January 11 for one weekend, before appearing in Whole Foods and Ocado. The bars will also roll out to Waitrose stores from the beginning of February and Sainsbury’s stores in March.

Flavours to hit the UK will include milk, dark, caramel sea salt, hazelnut, almond honey nougat, pretzel toffee and almond sea salt.

Tony’s Chocolonely was founded in 2005 by investigative journalist Teun van de Keuken, who discovered the world’s largest chocolate companies were buying cocoa from plantations in West Africa, where he claims the worst forms of child labour and modern slavery occur. For two years, he told Dutch police to arrest him for gorging on chocolate bars, claiming his consumption was complicit in an illegal slave trade intertwined with the global supply chain.

He failed to get locked up, but decided that things had to change within the industry, so he set up his own chocolate company.

Changing chocolate perceptions

So how does Tony’s Chocolonely ensure its chocolate is ethical? By creating direct, long-term relationships with cocoa farmers and using technology to develop a transparent and traceable bean-to-bar process, according to the company.

It pays a higher price for the cocoa beans from farmers in Ghana and the Ivory Coast, provides business and agricultural training to increase productivity on its farms, and works together with cooperatives. It also has a charitable arm that donates 1% of net revenue to support projects to eradicate modern slavery in the cocoa chain.

By entering the UK market, van de Keuken aims to raise awareness of the human rights issues involved in making one of the country’s best-loved foods – the average Brit devours 8.4kg of chocolate annually. He also hopes to encourage consumers and the big industry players to join his mission.

It’s a message that has been successful not just in the Netherlands, where Tony’s Chocolonely is the bestselling chocolate brand, but other markets as well, such as the US, Belgium, Sweden, Germany and Finland. Worldwide sales of the ethical brand totalled €44.9m (£39.4m) in 2017 – up 53% on the previous 12 months.

A moral treat

A survey from The Grocer last year found that younger consumers are particularly interested in knowing the ethics behind their cocoa fix, with one-fifth of 18- to 24-year-olds citing it as the most important element when buying a chocolate bar.

The same number across all age groups said they would definitely stop buying their favourite bar if they discovered it wasn’t ethically produced, while 49% said they’d consider it.

British brand Seed and Bean say they have seen growing demand for better-for-the planet (and people) products. For consumers, ethical has come to encompass a transparent supply chain, ingredient traceability and sustainably sourced, organically produced, natural ingredients, according to the company. People are also increasingly prepared to cough up for premium products, with the 4.6% increase in the value of chocolate confectionary seen by Kantar Worldpanel last year credited to this trend.

Each bar of chocolate in Seed and Bean’s range is Fairtrade and certified organic by the Soil Association. Packaging is fully recyclable and compostable, including the inner foil, which is made from eucalyptus tree pulp. In fact, Seed and Bean is the only chocolate company out of 27 to be awarded 100/100 by the Ethical Company Index.

Tickling vegan taste buds as well, it offers flavours like milk chocolate Cornish sea salt and lime; sweet orange and thyme; coffee espresso fine dark chocolate and extra dark chocolate. These are sold by Whole Foods, Planet Organic and other independent stores.

“A core part of Seed and Bean’s ethical mission statement is knowing our supply chain and to be assured that no child labour is used. We buy our couverture [chocolate] from a supplier who directly owns the cocoa farms and who has issued a statement outlining their commitment to prohibiting child labour,” Oliver Shorts, owner of Seed and Bean, tells Food Spark.

“We are proud to be at the forefront of ethical practice. Other brands only talk about doing it; we have done it and maintained it… Our USP is that we are the only premium chocolate brand that combines great taste and wild flavours with flawless ethical credentials.”

image credit: Instagram @eatyourhat

But it’s not without competition. Eat Your Hat started last year in the UK offering organic, sustainable and fair chocolate. Its cacao comes from Sao Tome in Central Africa, Peru, the Dominican Republic and Bolivia, working with small farm holders. The foil wrapper inside has a deceptively plastic look but is actually made from wood pulp and is fully compostable.

Eat Your Hat has also invested in interesting flavours, from milk chocolate with Sri Lankan cardamom to dark with Sri Lankan turmeric and black pepper, as well as Brazilian mandarin.

Bean counters

There are other brands practising the ethical ethos, too. Ocado sells Willie’s Cacao chocolate, which is bought directly from the farmers at a premium price and implements regular site visits to ensure no chemicals are used on the crops (beans are also tested by an external laboratory). Artisan producer Gnaw Chocolate uses renewable energy in its factories and recycles 95% of its waste.

High-end options also exist, like Mast Brothers in Harvey Nichols, which sources cacao from family-owned farms in Tanzania and Madagascar.

For the brand Divine, whose stockists include Waitrose, sweet success is shared between the British arm and Kuapa Kokoo, a Ghanaian cacao farmers’ cooperative that owns 44% of the business.

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