Having just got done doing a very successful chocolate tasting for the NYC Slow Food chapter I would have to say that all of these companies fall within the constellation of attributes that Slow Food embraces. However, the chocolate brands themselves may or may not consider themselves to fit the Slow Food mantra.
Much chocolate is among the least-sustainable, least "locavore" gourmet foods going - beans grown in the tropics, shipped to Europe, converted to chocolate, shipped to NY and then to LA to be made into confections and then shipped ... around the world in some cases.
Something to consider.
To the extent that the slow food ethic embraces local foods, chocolate manufactured at or near the site of cacao production seems to fit well. There are an ever-increasing number of such efforts in such diverse locations as Madagascar, Ecuador, Grenada, Central America, and of course here in Hawaii.
I think the twin topics of carbon loading and the colonial production system in chocolate are vital issues for all of us to consider as the fine chocolate marketplace continues to develop...
Just a quick comment regarding the carbon footprint from fine chocolate. The carbon emission from transport is relatively limited, compared to the emissions from production stage (farms) and the chocolate manufacturing stage, therefore I don't think it matters much where the chocolate is manufactured, especially because the large scale industry is relatively efficient in terms of GHG emissions per TM of output. Perhaps for the fine chocolate industry the source of energy is something to consider (wind, water, solar, bio-mass?)
For tropical commodities, like cocoa beans, the carbon emission caused by deforestation plus the use of agro-chemicals are by far the most important GHG sources. In that sense one could say that the fine flavour (criollo, trinitario) beans do have limited impact compared to the west african cacao systems (land converion from secondary forests to cocoa plantation) or the Asian cacao production (highly fertilised). The criollo cacao beans don't cause much land conversion and use very little inputs in most cases (especially when grown by small holder farmers). Perhaps the increasing demand for fine flavour beans triggers the conversion of degraded land back into cacao farms?
It is a complex subject, so I hope I didn't make it more complex......
To be clear, it's not the type of beans that are being grown it's the system of agriculture that is employed. It's possible to grow any type of bean in a "modern" (i.e., high density, no shade, intensive agricultural input) way- irrespective of "resorting" to pioneer farming (the clear cutting of primary or secondary forest for agricultural use).
The origin and source of the fertilizers being used also needs to be considered. There are examples of appropriate-scale on-site organic composting in the cacao industry.
Cacao is a good choice for rehabilitating degraded land if the planting is managed carefully for the long term and organic techniques are used (e.g., nitrogen-fixing plants are incorporated into the shade tree selection) - and in part because of the potential for economic return.
Thanks for the feedback! To my knowledge (but perhaps it's too limited) not all cacao's do equally well in full sun systems, especially the criollo's require quite some shade (their natural habitat). In shaded systems the application of fertiliser is less effective in terms of production increase (the limiting factor is sunlight?). And very true, the origin of the fertiliser (organic/inorganic) matters quite a lot.
In Peru the farmers seem to replace coca production for cocoa. Coca is quite bad and after a couple of years result in highly degraded land. Cocoa is much better and at the same time sequesters carbon while being planted (especially when shade trees are added as well).
I think it does bear considering that the first thing chocolate makers do with the commodity they just shipped is discard about 30% of its mass after roasting and winnowing. Certainly not the most efficient use of a pretty long supply chain :-)
However, it certainly is true that bringing the value-added component of finished chocolate closer to the agricultural supplier has many more powerful economic effects for local communities than some global reduction in transport cost to the environment. For the purposes of thinking about how chocolate fits in the slow food movement, that's probably a more topical area of inquiry.
Land use is central for emissions concerns, as you rightly point out. If anyone's interested, here's a link to a blog post on part of what we're up to in this area, including some good reference links:
You're totally right. All that can be done to reduce environmental impact should be done, and all that can be done to locally add value, the same (principles of slow food?). In coffee we have seen a recent growth of the consumption of quality coffee in countries of origin, perhaps the same will happen with chocolate. As far as I know some countries are net exporter of beans and net importer of chocolate products (Nicaragua, Peru). The emerging small batch processing could bring a positive change to this...
Best regards and thanks for the link