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Is there such a thing as GREAT Fair Trade chocolate?

Along with ChocolateLife member Sunita de Tourreil, I am giving a presentation to a group at the World Bank next week.

Having just come back from the Salon du Chocolat two days ago and taking a look there, I was wondering if anyone knows of a truly world-class chocolate made with FLO Fair Trade certified beans.

Equal Exchange, Alter Eco, Divine, etc., all make certified chocolates but I don't know anyone who puts them in the same class as Bonnat, Amedei, Domori, Askiniosie,  Amano, et al.

There are very large companies making certified chocolate but that's all mass-market chocolate-like substance, IMO.

Any thoughts?

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even if it probably won't be a big help for you - Zotter works with FLO cerfified beans. They make lots of filled bars selling them in organic supermarkets, but their Loboko bars (Panama, Nicaragua for instance) are not mass-market.
Just an idea...

Thanks for pointing this out to me. I recently purchased some Zotter bars and did not notice the Fair Trade logo on them I will have to search and see.

:: Clay
How about Vintage Plantations?
There probably aren´t good chocolates with fair trade beans. The logic is this: If you have fine cocoa beans, which you need to make great chocolate, you get a substantial premium from that. You don´t need fair trade premiums that are often quite moderate. Fair trade is sought by cocoa producers who don´t have a good product (forastero "bulk" beans) but would like to make some more money. So as quality can´t be used as an argument for getting more money, they try the argument of "look I am poor, I should make some more money". In my opinion, this is actually detrimental to development. You teach poor farmers that they should make a business out of being poor, rather than focus on making a better quality product (or increase productivity). That way they stay poor. Which of course is good for the people in the developed world who make a living of being in NGOs, promoting "fair trade". Harsh? Well, perhaps, but actually true if you think about it.
Frank -

Some very good arguments. I especially like the analogy to encouraging farmers to make a business out of being poor.

A focus on improving quality is what's needed - but then mass market chocolate makers really don't want to support programs that would drive up their costs significantly. They are in a real Catch-22 here.

:: Clay

Agreed. Being a business man, I think the whole issue is around supplier power vs. buyer power. I think the big chocolate manufacturers can get away with paying too low prices for cocoa because suppliers are disperse and relatively un-sophisticated. Also, of course, because suppliers have not been able to differentiate their cocoa products -- here is a great opportunity with "fine cocoa". Once consumers learn to distinguish different flavours and look for a more sophisticated product, then there is a opportunity for suppliers to gain power. Today, even in gourmet chocolates with 70% cacao, the cost of the cocoa represents less than 20% of retail price, often less than 10%. Probably quite out of balance if compared to other gourmet food products, where the raw materials represent a higher percentage.

My five cents. :)

It's always going to be tough for farmers - and it isn't always because they are poor, uneducated or whatever we blithely assume on their behalfs. Here in the UK milk farmers sell milk at below production cost to the supermarkets - and find themselves powerless to do much about it. Some sell direct at Farmers Markets, at the gate or add value by producing artisan cheese, ice cream and so on. Not everyone can do this. Net result is dairy farmers going out of business at a steadily increasing rate and big (cheap) imports of milk from around the world.
This is in prosperous, educated, organised England. It seems all we can do is vote with our wallets - don't buy supermarket milk, don't buy bulk chocolate, pay more for quality cocoa beans. It feels like we have no power but it depends how many there are. Fairtrade is a way for the consumer to feel like they are making that (slightly tougher) choice and heling in some small way. As a movement it is to be applauded but it isn't the whole answer.
Red Star Chocolate



Your lack of sympathy for, and understanding of poor cash crop farmers (and what motivates them) seems as limited as your lack of understanding of what Fair Trade is and why it exists, (and what can be achieved with "bulk" forastero cocoa).


Some of the best cocoa I have ever tasted (properly fermented and dried, with strong chocolate aroma and other flavour notes) is forastero cocoa produced by isolated, uneducated South Pacific farmers.  Those people are literally forced to accept low prices for their cocoa (because the buyers work together to keep the price to growers down) despite its high quality.


So to say that poor grows who seek Fair Trade certification:


"try the argument of "look I am poor, I should make some more money""


... is arrogant and wrong and neatly deflects responsibility for the problem (their poverty) from the people who actually cause it (that is us in the developed nations of the world). 


What Fair Trade is actually saying is: "These people deserve to get a living wage for the work that they do and it is our responsibility to pay ". 


It's also wrong to say that Fair Trade (with all of its acknowledged flaws) just trades off the story of poverty.  Fair Trade is meant to be a safety net for poor people that prevents exploitation.  It's not intended to be a driver of quality, or quantity of product.  How first world manufacturers choose to use the Fair Trade story of their product has nothing do to with the farmers who rely on it in an attempt to get a fair income from their labour.


I will agree with Duffy's post above.  Power imbalances (like in the English milk industry which is also happening in Australia) are not the fault of the farmer.  And dismissing Fair Trade for its efforts to try to restore some balance in poor nations is wrong.



Hi Clay,

Perhaps my comment is quite naive but what about Theo? I remember they got a couple of Academy of Chocolate awards...

The only great Fairtrade chocolate is Theo. If we are including Rainforest Alliance, then Cacaoyere as well.  I think that both of these occupy a new place, their own category, perhaps, of mass market
product that holds enough of the fine chocolate ingredients, and doesn't flub
it up too much, can be great chocolate in its own right, and is still accessible
to a wide range. Not quite as good as those in some ways, but a perfectly respectable
Rainforest chocolate, is Kallari.

I think it can almost be comparing apples in oranges to say if any of these are worth the Bonnat/Domori/ Amano type or not... I prefer to taste either Cacaoyere or Theo, even the Kallari,  in addition to a couple from Republica del
Cacao, and some by Slitti, El Rey, or even Santander,  to most chocolates by
Valrhona, for example. None of these last are Fairtrade or Rainforest certified,
though, but they do belong to a category I see as the best industrial chocolates,
they are more sophisticated and interesting than the Callebaut level, to be
sure. I've been talking about a bunch of this stuff on my blog as of late,
where I've also occasionally bitched and moaned about Fairtrade, etc...


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