Impact Hub Berkeley’s “From the Ground Up” is a four part, year-long program that brings together multi-stakeholder organizations working in sustainable food and agriculture to collaborate on joint initiatives. The change accelerator combines dynamic innovation salons, public-facing education programs, and community building events to drive systemic change in the following areas: (1) Collaborative Trade, (2) Living Oceans, (3) Soil Health/Carbon Farming (4) Local Food Systems.
Collaborative Trade Change Accelerator
Session 2: Story and Transparency
Collaborative Trade is fundamentally about people, and providing opportunities for each person to help create systems that work better for everyone involved. The topic for the first two salon sessions focused on “the farmer, buyer and intermediary relationship.”
Session 2 gathered 10 leaders from the sustainable cacao, coffee and food industry together to share their voice and co-design ways to improve storytelling and transparency for more equitable trade. (See participant list below). By equitable trade, simply we mean a system that is inclusive, accessible and benefits all who wish to participate, including smaller-scale players. The conversation focused on the role that storytelling and transparency plays in communicating value and the challenges the speciality cacao and coffee industries have in connecting consumers to the broader issues these values support.
Session 2 Summary
The 3.5 hour session included introductions and a PPT overview, co-creative topic development, topic-led discussion and synopsis and action-step design. Below is a summary of learning, followed by an detailed account of the topics discussed.
Story communicates value
We began by exploring the meaning and function of a story. ‘So what story do I tell?’ Much of how a story is told is a balance between the aim of the message (ie the value) and what the audience can readily digest. We listed a dizzying array of needs, functions, and types of story from each player involved, resurfacing the theme that one-size fits all or top down approaches to communication do not work well. For this reason, connecting new consumers to the added value of a differentiated product, such as why pay $10 for a chocolate bar emerged as a key challenge.
The importance of building relationship and trust surfaced again as essential to creating connection and provenance. Honesty, integrity and the transparency of storytelling were noted as key to building trust consistently. And ultimately this is about communicating value so the farmer can earn a fair wage for care of the land and creation of a differentiated product.
Vehicles for change
So how do we effectively communicate the good work being done? Packaging drives sales but is a limited vehicle for storytelling. And chocolate itself is sweet and tangible vehicle for connection and empathy. Who knew that “chocolate from different places tastes different?” Taste and experiences connects us to the people who made it and the land from which it is grown. Did you know this cacao grows near orange trees in a canyon? You can taste it!
And who says?
Chocolate makers around the world agree there is a need for the industry to develop a shared language and a lexicon of terms to describe flavor and quality. An open and accessible process for rating and describing flavor is needed to help buyers and farmers learn together. Rewarding quality necessitates a level of verification or connection to trusted sources of information.
We go farther together
The speciality market of cacao is very tiny, say less that 5% of the entire cocoa trade (in fact cacao is arguably not a commodity!) but the impact these industry pioneers have on the earth and people involved is quite sizable. We are talking about giant positive shifts towards poverty alleviation, rainforest conservation and social and environmental justice. These pioneers – large and small organizations – are united by shared values and an interest in collaboration to create change. Telling of a collective story is key to creating a deeper connection to people and place and to cultivate a willingness for consumers to pay for that perceived value.
Reinvention of symbols for trust
Modern industry’s focus on productivity and scale often removes the sense of connection to the person behind the product, making trust more difficult. Certifications have in part served a role in bridging trust, however they often pose limitations for the producer at origin and the product maker. Namely, the structure of the “one-size fits all” approach does not adequately communicate the care of people and land that goes into making a higher quality product and is cost prohibitive for many smaller players in the system. Industry leaders expressed the need for dynamic systems for defining and tracking progress towards shared goals in ways that moves beyond static benchmarks.
So what is needed?
Creating connection starts with people. What is needed is a space to make each person involved visible and channels of connection for people to share stories of what they value and communicate with one another. A collective movement towards greater access and inclusion in supply chain requires people within that system collectively defining a common agenda, principles and terms of agreement to align participation. There is a need for backbone of support to manage the development process and a joint commitment from all involved.
In sum, we learned “story is just about conveying the heart of all the people involved.” And attention on building trust and relationship is needed to communicate and verify information, which enables markets to function effectively and efficiently.
Thank you for your participation and the opportunity to pilot Collaborative Trade with us.
Co-creative topic development
After introductions, we took 20 minutes to co-design the session. We reviewed the original discussion prompts and asked “what’s alive for you” and “what attracted you to this session” to better shape the discussion around the desires and energy present in the room.
Ideas popcorned from each participant creating the field for a rich and meaningful conversation. Discussion interest coalesced around 4 major themes:
Meaning and function of story
Participants asked, “Are you talking about branding? Or are you talking about reporting, which is actually just details of where the chocolate comes from and a step-by-step process. Are you talking about education, which is a different piece of that? Or is the story more personal?”
Connection with the consumer
There was a desire to build a connection to bigger issues with the consumer. This brought up questions such as, “How do we spark interest for learning more about the value and impact of a product? “What do customers care about? Why tell a story that is not serving the customer? Does better flavor and higher quality adequately tell the story of the additional money going back to the country of origin?”
Language, terms and vehicles for story
What are the most impactful ways to tell stories? For a young consumer packaged good company with limited shelf and packing space, “How do you tell the story of the additional value without being reductive?” And, “What terms do we use to describe the story around the relationships with the producer and ethical supply chains?” “What makes something merely token or representative?” It was noted that, “The meanings of ‘artisanal, sustainable, etc’ can begin to feel diluted on one hand and on the other hand they have also become understood in the mainstream marketplace.”
Level of transparency and responsibility of the storyteller
How do you decide which story to tell? Participants wondered, “What is the responsibility of the storyteller or communicator for fair representation or impact? How to best represent someone else’s story? Consumers want a level of curation, such as passing the test of certification, yet certification and ‘one-size fits all’ approaches have limitations. Noting different information needs from farm to consumer, who decides the rules and who benefits?
At the break someone exclaimed, “wow, there is so much chocolate here.” We were properly fueled and ready to begin.
Yellow Seed engages community directly in the decision-making process. We believe individual voices coming together accelerates learning and allows the Collaborative Trade movement to grow. We documented the conversation here, highlighting stories and experience shared, so you can join the collective learning process throughout the series.
“So what is the role and purpose of storytelling in the market?” prompts Lawrence Nussbaum, a sustainability consultant and Collaborative Trade Fellow for the Impact Hub Berkeley’s, From the Ground Up Series.
Mayra Orellana-Powell, Marketing and Outreach Director of Royal Coffee and founder of Catracha Coffee begins, “Story is how people can know about where the coffee comes from.” And the story serves different roles; “One is about the coffee and the other is about me as a person from Honduras. When I go to events, I feel like I’m representing my country and I can answer questions that are asked about the product, my culture and the people. So for me in my position it’s a way to speak for many of the coffee producers who don’t have a voice.” She continues, “Because we can close the loop, the producer gains reputation and a higher wage. We are successful because we are very transparent. When you are telling story, it has to be real.”
Molly Gore, food writer and Communication Director for Dandelion Chocolate explains her role, “For Dandelion I figure out what is important in the story and why it matters to the world. I tell it in the most responsible and complete way.” Molly speaks to the responsibility and challenges of storytelling, “ In this way, storytellers have a responsibility to give people better context around where money matters in a community.”
Zohara Mapes Bediz, Research and Development and Chocolate Maker at TCHO Chocolate, “I’m interested in better understanding how to create a story that is meaningful and creates connection. For TCHO, we have focused on flavor and making the best high quality flavorful chocolate that we can make. So, I spent a lot of time focusing on how we create a common language of quality and flavor. We work with our partner producers to launch products that have specific flavor profiles from specific regions. Then we try to simplify that [language] in a very, very basic way to the consumer. For example, we launched a fruity bar from Peru, a chocolatey one from Ghana, a nutty one from Ecuador and a Madagascar bar called bright. We used to call the Madagascar bar citrus. It did not sell very well and we learned the consumer thought that the Madagascar chocolate had lemon in it. However, when people tasted it, it was one of their favorite chocolate bars. So, even if you create a story and try to simplify it in a way that you think will connect with the customer it may not work. That is a real challenge.”
Sunita de Tourreil, Founder & CEO of The Chocolate Garage and a craft chocolate industry innovator empathizes, “If TCHO can not even get the point across that there is no lemon in the product, how can any small chocolate maker effectively tell that story?” And adds, “I have always felt like one of the things that TCHO does well is add value in country – that the chocolate is being roasted, winnowed and ground there – so that more money stays in the country. This is what [the craft industry] is all about. I call it ‘happy chocolate.’”
Lawrence Nussbaum, a sustainability consultant and Collaborative Trade Fellow for the Impact Hub Berkeley’s From the Ground Up Series suggests, “The whole value-add in country is a different message and storyline, right? Rather than ‘bean to bar’, it is actually, this is ‘liquor to bar.”
Sunita agrees, “It gets into a whole other issue of like who cares if it is bean to bar? Frankly, for me, it is still happy chocolate. The point being that it is sourced and made in responsible way rather than the focus on ‘how’ it’s made.”
Mayra sees the challenges of communication as an opportunity. “Those stories should naturally help you promote your brand, because you are doing good. period. And when you are paying higher price for a fair product, you are half of the way there in selling your product.”
Pei-Ru Keh, Founder of Real Food Real Stories, shares, “For us, we use story as avenue of building personal connection to the bigger issues. We focus on creating space for the storytellers to tell their own stories in an impactful way that can inspire others to join them.” A lot of times, storytellers are far away, so it takes reporting and other storytellers to tell the story for them.
Ben Feldman, Food and Farming Program Director at Ecology Center and Project Lead for the Haitian Chocolate Project, brings up the questions, “How do we represent someone else’s story? What is representation and what is sort of tokenism? What is the difference between saying this is how we are working and this is an example of how we are working in sort of the ideal situation. It is a challenge to tell a story about Haiti in the United States because there are many barriers. There is a language barrier, an infrastructure barrier and a perception barrier. Which pieces of it do people care about and which pieces are the ones that are most important to us? Those are not always the same thing.”
Lawrence adds, “One interesting thing for discussion is the use of language and terms in telling a story, especially for a young consumer packaged good company that has limited shelf space and limited package space to tell the story. The meaning of terms like artisanal, sustainable become diluted. On the other hand, they have also become understood in the mainstream marketplace.”
Ben chimes in, “Yeah, it seems like the consumers want curation. For example, that everything on the shelf has passed a certain test.”
Lawrence adds, “that is where certification emerged originally, right, as the tool to do that.”
Ben agrees, “Yes and that is just such a big question. Who gets to decide what are the best stipulations for certification? It is complicated.”
Laura Kowler, a consultant for Solidaridad Network chimes in remotely from Peru where she has been working with producers for the past 15 years. “It is really interesting hearing this after just coming out of meetings talking with producers about how certification has been so much a part of producer’s stories. Certification connects the consumer with the producers. However, the value is becoming less and less important for a lot of consumers or for some of the market at least. We do not see a difference in price of our products that are organic and nonorganic. It makes people even question the benefits and costs.”
Molly adds, “As a consumer, educating yourself on where these products come from is an astonishingly large responsibility noting the breadth of things that we buy. How do you do that without being reductive?”
Catherine Campbell, a sustainability consultant for large agricultural supply chains of Marker Campbell Consulting, suggests, “Also what is important to consumer but your prospective consumer, from someone who might buy it from you but also a year from now. There is a conversation around value and what the company wants to say to the public but there is that other piece of what is the public able to consume from the value that you want to tell them.”
Lucie Argelies, working with Barefoot College an organization working with grassroots indigenous communities in more than 70 countries suggests, “I think you have to differentiate the story you say on your products so that people buy it and the story you say to educated people. With Barefoot College, education and sensitization is a part of our work because for the future, it’s important to bridge the gap between what people want and what we would like them to want.”
I ask, “So what is the difference between reporting and story?”
Molly replies, “They are not entirely distinct from each other. To me, reporting is ‘these are the facts and this is what true.’ The artfulness in which I tell you this information does not matter as much as the authenticity or verification. Storytelling, on the other hand, is told in a way in which people want to ingest it. There is some engaging character or entertainment value.”
Molly adds, “To me, I see reporting and the part of the transparency is partly empowering. There have been some producers that have changed the way that they ferment, after reading our sourcing report. They did not know that you ferment with certain boxes, for example. After they tried it, they had a different product. In this way, I see the chocolate makers as a kind of pollinators. We are the ones with the resources and the reason to be traveling everywhere and sharing information. Producers can not do that. They are farming and not fermenting. That is kind of where I see a lot of the value of transparency.”
Molly shifts us to the conversation about values, “I’m also craving to hone in on what are we all doing here and how we can do it better. What are our collective values as people who are involved in chocolate?”
So I ask the group, “Why chocolate?” and begin to map out values on the whiteboard.
Ben Feldman begins, “The reason I’m involved with the Haitian Chocolate Project is because cacao has the potential to be an entry point for sustainable economic development. As mission of our effort, making quality chocolate is somewhat secondary to promoting job creation and farmer livelihood.”
Lawrence points to the white board reflecting back on notes from the conversation, “flavor, improved livelihoods, elevating craft artisanal foods, conservation and biodiversity and…. the potential of chocolate for making the world a better place.”
Sunita adds, “Chocolate is a vehicle to cultivate empathy and when considering where it comes from, chocolate is a delicious place to start,” noting the path it travels from the grower to the maker to the consumer, and “their great potential to value one another.”
Pei-Ru says, “I resonate with the cultivating empathy. Yes, and connection. Connection, not just in knowing where your food comes from but also in having a relationship with where your food comes from. A lack of engagement is where things can fall apart and where transparency doesn’t need to happen anymore because you just rely on labels and certifications.”
Molly speaks to Dandelion’s approach, “From the Dandelion voice, value is about creating the best chocolate experiences in the world. People are going to buy the chocolate because they like how it tastes. And then on the backside it feels like nurturing high quality of life through supporting the production of high quality cacao every step of the way. Quality is a stronghold and best way to align everyone’s interest.”
Lucie adds, “For Barefoot it is to reinforce the self-reliance of communities we work with and to improve quality of life. I agree that the best way to align this is through attention to quality and creating the best possible experience.”
Laura suggests, “What I see is important for producers and customers is something around environmental sustainability and land use. In my work in Peru, I’ve noticed people that promote specialty cacao are focussed on smarter land use practices, often to more create a higher yield in less area. She adds, “I also see the need for transparency for the producers, on the other end so they knowing what the market looks like. They do not necessarily get this information and ‘the why’ behind growing and producing a higher quality product, especially when the market is uncertain.”
Pei-Ru adds, “A lot of the system hinges on trust between different sectors of the supply chain and also between consumers and chocolate makers. Having trusted relationships and representing them in the most honest way is in the best interest of everyone’s goals.”
Pointing to the list Lawrence inquires Sunita, “which one of these values do you highlight when sharing stories of the bars, makers, and origins?”
Sunita reveals how customers commit to buying a $10-$15 craft chocolate bar, “We focus on the tasting and the experience around chocolate. That’s our strategy to sell chocolate and have people value it. We try to strip away the packaging and have people taste the chocolate for what it is.” She speaks to ways the Chocolate Garage engages its customers, “We also have a model where our customers fund the making of bars, such as sourcing beans from Jamaica, so then people feel like they are participating in a larger effort.”
I chime in, “Is that’s why I see a lot of chocolate makers focus on flavor and taste? as a powerful storyteller?”
Sunita disagrees, “A lot of bad chocolate gets sold based on packaging.”
Catherine chimes in empathizing with the typical consumer who is confronted with a barrage of choices, “If I go to the marketplace to buy wine, coffee and chocolate and also detergent, cheese, produce, in my busy life, I’m not going to spend 50 min at the grocery store reading everything in front of me. As an educated consumer, I care about sustainability and I care about where it is coming from, but I can only pick one of those things to concentrate on at a time. But if you win my trust first then you’re my brand, and I don’t have to think about it anymore.“ She poses a challenge to the group, “As a collective industry, how can you work together to get to me, the consumer, to that place where I know which brands to [trust?]“
I ask, “So what is the collective story we are telling? Is there a way to get people on the same page quickly? How do we differentiate but also elevate?”
After waiting a minute I add, “Why is focus on quality and flavor? Can you breaking that down a bit more? What is it about the chocolate experience or the packaging that is so powerful?”
Sunita offers a comparison, “For wine, I have little repertoire. I know roughly the price range and then I go for what speaks to me. I like this package or this one feels manipulative. So it ends up being an emotional decision.”
Ben suggests the entire experience connects the consumer to the value, “Mostly you remember that experience you have when you ate the bar. Do you have a positive association with it based on what was happening at the time. It’s more nuance than just the taste.” Reflecting on trends of the craft industry he adds, “Many of the [craft] industries that we’re talking about have been more successful at differentiating themselves as consumers have become more familiar with the products. WIne is a good example. Craft beer is a good example. And, as people have tasted and experienced [specialty products], there has become more differentiation in the market as those industries have grown. To me that’s really encouraging about the trajectory of chocolate right now.”
Sunita asks “What does differentiation mean in this case?”
“Well take beer, for example. I don’t think 10 years ago you could have a brewery that specializes in sour beers and now you have a number of them, because more consumers have tasted different types of beer and as they learn about them, the more they are willing to pay [for that value].”
Sunita, reflects on the challenge of transparency, “I am seeing big industry beginning to mimic craft beer and also craft chocolate now too. For example, you go to Whole Foods and you see this gorgeous bottle of ‘craft’ Matilda beer, but then you realize it’s actually In Bev-Anheuser Busch. Scharfenberger Chocolate doesn’t say Hershey’s on the bar. It says a division of Artisan Confections, another holding company. So how do you know?”
Molly chimes in, “This is a really interesting conversation. For consumers, it may seem like a betrayal, ‘my favorite coffee is gone now and will be just like everyone else.’ But on the artisan side, it could be a completely different attitude, ‘ I’ve been slaving away and 20 mi dollars, I’m going to take that. It is well deserved.’ So within the last year, I have seen the companies being bought up are more interested in maintaining control over the quality of their product than companies in the past have been. So, I’ve become a lot more hopeful about this buying up pattern.”
Sunita, adds, “But isn’t it a little depressing that [scale and acquisition] is the only way you can succeed? For the most part in chocolate you have to scale, lower your margins, go for the big play, get into Whole Foods, and then hopefully get rescued and bought. What does that say about our distribution system that we can’t support local artisan food?”
I added, “It comes back to that we can’t support what we value.”
Molly inquires further, “I’d like examples of small artisanal projects that have stayed small that are making enough. Is it a question of making enough to survive, making enough to be comfortable or making good money?”
Ben adds that he spends a lot of time discussing appropriate scale for businesses at the farmers market, “The classic story here is that if you’re in food that the only way for your company to be profitable is to get big. Clif Bar went their own path and still grew to be a big company. (See story) But selling your business should be a viable option too.”
“When is enough enough? That is the point you have to ask,” Mayra questions the benefits of scale and the culture from which it originates. “In case of coffee and speaking from origin, we ask our producers, ‘How big do you really want to be? To the point where you lose control of the quality and other things.’”
I add in, “I’ve been curious about how to create business model of products that mimics the natural system from which they originate. Rainforest products for example, favor diversity in the natural environment. What if collaboration could be a vehicle to meet the needs of efficiencies of scale and also diversity of product? This brings us back to the question of what is a our collective story?”
Zohara suggests, “I don’t think that the big guys are necessarily a threat to all of us who are trying to do something good.” She reflects on a friend’s experience, “I got a personal email from the founder of an organic chocolate company when he sold the company to a large chocolate producer. For him it was a way to expand the good work that he was doing to a much larger audience than he ever would have had the opportunity to reach and make more organic chocolate in the world. So rather than seeing it as a threat, it helped the overall trend by educating the consumer around [the value] of organic.” She suggests other examples, “Walmart is the largest supplier of organic food in the world and Starbucks at one point in time had one coffee that was fair trade and that made them the largest purchaser of Fair Trade coffee in the world at that time. So it can be collaborative within the small guys but it can also be a collaboration with the large guys.”
Sunita advocates from the perspective of the smaller enterprise, “The problem is that there is only one path now, namely to grow and scale.” She speaks to the complications that come with producing with bigger machinery while staying true to values of quality, “So what do you do if a batch is bad? You sell it anyways.” She highlights the story of a maker who decided to scale down to retain quality of product and also quality of life, “There is one maker who hired a lot of employees and began to scale and then realized it was kind of a trap. He was no longer actually making chocolate because he was managing other things. So, he scaled down production and increased his prices. Now he’s happily he’s in a position where he is doing what he loves while making a reasonable living.”
Zohara agrees and wonders, “there might be a place for both [large and local artisans]. The big guys also want to figure out how to do a better job as well, and we want them to. She presents a new challenge, “How do you integrate [the learning] and have both help each other improve?”
Molly adds, “It’s all part of this slow moving holistic attempt to educate people where their food comes from. I think the vocabulary comes slowly. I mean single origin wasn’t a word in the food system until recently.” She adds, “I don’t think it’s in service of the consumers to tell them what to buy and what not to buy. The story is already massively confusing in terms of what to trust and what not to trust. And there are good reasons for Fair Trade and you can’t address that complexity on one package. I think it’s a matter of being very clear and very honest in your own story telling and explaining how you do exactly everything you do.”
Sunita agrees, “Dandelion has to talk about its choice not to be Fair Trade. You are paying double commodity price direct to farmer. A $200 premium a metric ton for Fair Trade is [only] paying administrative costs.”
Molly speaks to challenges Dandelion faces in differentiating value, “My friends introduce me to other people like, ‘Oh Molly works at a Fair Trade Chocolate Factory.’ That’s kind of the catch-all for you have some kind of ethical standard.” And goes on to explain, “In our sourcing report there is a couple pages on Fair Trade vs Direct Trade and a couple pages on middleman. We explain why we don’t buy Fair Trade. We say why Fair Trade exists, why it is good and what it has done. We share why we don’t require it. Because we can do better, and it’s not always sustainable and it’s a one size fits all. “ I think the people making the products have the responsibility to do it right and tell a good story. And tell the honest story.”
I ask the group, “so what do you feel is needed by the industry? In terms of education and defining of values?
Molly recommends, “So much of this comes down to trust. We are trying to tell stories that consumers can trust and consumers are looking for stories to trust and we are also looking for trusted relationship with producers.”
Mayra chimes in, “One way for us to explain why we don’t certify our coffee is because of its costs. It’s very expensive. Fair Trade is ok, but we work in a different segment where [products] are unique and producers are special because of the extra work that is done [to create a quality product]. It’s best to explain why you don’t pay for certification is that it is more expensive for producers and more expensive for you, the roaster.”
I ask, “In regards of storytelling and transparency, what would make it easier to share the story of the work that is being done that goes beyond certification? Are there ways to create some type of framework that is flexible that can showcase the diversity of values and preferences while also holding a deeper set of commitments towards a collective movement?”
Ben suggests, “It’s almost like a statement of principles or here is what we collectively agree on.”
Michael, Project and Community Manager for OSC2 (a coalition of CEO’s and founders in the natural products food industry, which includes brands such as Mary’s Gone Crackers, Numi Tea, 18 Rabbits, Alter Eco, and Guayaki) adds, “Recently, OSC2 members explored creating [their own] certification. Through this process they realized that while they are operating well-beyond current certification standards, they were not certification experts and did not have the capacity to create another standard or process for verification. They also collectively decided that none of the companies were at a point where they could remove existing certifications entirely from packaging for the risk of the impact it would have on their business. To create cohesiveness for the group, they settled on a set of core principles and terms of agreement amongst the members. In some ways it functions like certification…but it’s easier to manage and not nearly as costly.”
Zohara poses an important question, “Who is managing that body of work?”
Michael responded, “That comes down to the group. They are participating in a collaborative group that they joined. There is a screen to be a part of that group and certain qualifiers, certain ethics that the company maintains and the products fall under as a shared set of principles.”
Ben agrees, “[A set of principles] allows a certain amount of accountability about how one meets those standards. And publicly stating these principles says “this is what we are about.” It’s not perfect but it’s a starting place, a step.
Pei-Ru shared an experience of a product maker who used story to advocate the value of products that are made to be perishable and fresh. “In one of the Real Food Real Story gatherings we featured a granola maker from the Bay Area who sourced organic ingredients. She shared a personal story of her life, like why she is dedicating herself to this work, which built a point of connection with the audience. In the audience there was a buyer from Bi-Rite market who confessed, “While I knew the maker, I was never going to spend $8.99 a pound. But after hearing her story, now I’m going to buy her granola and I’m going to sell her granola differently.’
“Before we can talk about all the values of what we stand for, we need to build that personal connection so consumers care about your brand and who you are. Until that happens it’s hard for people to actually want to listen to you and what you care about.” She adds, “The customer is like, ‘everyone is trying to educate me. Yet I just want to eat chocolate and have a good experience.’ I believe relationship building and connection comes before [education].”
Sunita recalls past industry efforts in creating alignment around shared goals. “So, what is flavor? What is quality and what is the right way to engage with the farmer? We can talk about the concept but what that looks like is different for different people. Craft Chocolate Makers of America was an organization that formed to create a common understanding of what craft meant. However, as it grew and became a larger organisation with many new members, it was hard to agree on anything because the notion of quality is difficult to define and agree upon. The organization is gone now. The hope I see for cacao is the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute where they are developing ways to assess the quality of cacao. Carla Martin and Colin Gasko are behind this initiative.
Michael adds, “That fracturing happened within Fair Trade and within organics and resulted with a compromised version depending on who you asked. Creating agreement around shared principles that can extend out or scale is a major pain point.”
I ask, “What is the difference between a buyer preference and a principle?” Michael can you give an example?”
Michael offered, “For their ingredients, they agree to use of Organic and Fair Trade certified ingredients whenever possible.”
And I suggest, “Like a principle to say ‘pay a premium for a differentiated product?’”
Sunita notes challenges with premiums, “People often pay a premium for craft but sometimes it is not helpful if beans are not properly fermented and dried. If it’s just about the premium itself, there is major overpayment going on because the product being bought is not always high quality.” She empathizes with the average small-scale chocolate maker and the challenge to premiums, namely the need for skilled assessment and verification.. She jokingly adds, “If I was buying cacao I would totally get ripped off because I don’t know about assessing cacao, and even if I did 2 years of chocolate making I’d probably still be bumbling along and trying to figure it out.”
I suggest, “what if premiums were offered after shipment and testing could be verified by a trusted member or service provider?”
Sunita agrees, “Right, and then you need that quality standard and structure. Cacao is so behind that there isn’t even a standard yet.”
Mayra adds, “In coffee we still have that issue and it’s only a very small percentage of producers who actually make more money. In coffee, roasters are having trouble finding good quality coffee, because farmers realize that [buyers] are not paying me enough, so for them it’s easier to produce a cheaper alternative.” This point ties into the discussion from Session 1 for the need to increase both wage and demand of quality product in order to create aligned incentives for producers.
The conversation came to a close with a round of final thoughts.
Molly concludes by saying “Chocolate is at an exciting time, and as challenging as all this is, I think it’s pretty awesome that we can now tell the story of how chocolate from different places tastes different. The key value and intention to our industry I’ll suggest is integrity. Integrity in the way that we speak about what we do.”
Zohara shares, “I’m interested in how we develop care throughout the supply chain from the consumer back to how it grows. How complex and interconnected cacao is, is what drew me to this industry, and I’m excited to share more about my experiences so we can get people excited and interested to learn more.”
Pei-Ru adds, “I am excited that people care about stories. Stories are my life. It is inspiring the passion and care people have for their products and projects.“
Sunita reflects on Pei-Ru’s passion for stories. “After hearing how stories are your life, it occurs to me that I do a lot of story telling. But I don’t see it as that (story telling) as much genuinely sharing why I love the bars and the people behind the products.
For example, someone walks in, they are buying a Brown Butter Bar, (someone in the room exclaims, oh that’s my favorite bar!) and I ask the customer, ‘do you want to know how this bar came to be? This guy is so passionate. He created like two test batches a week for 3 months, changing the way he roasted it, how he chose different brown sugars and browned the butter differently. Finally, he felt the product was good.’ I have access to both the customer and where it came from and the makers and sometimes the farmers. I’m listening to people and funneling [stories] in a truthful way to those who are asking more. It’s all about the people and making people real to the customer. Suddenly all those intangibles takes a new dimension and we value it differently. I feel like I just figured out here today that story is just about conveying the heart of all the people involved.
Lucie agrees, “I feel what is connected to core principles is an understanding of how to enable more people to connect and the opportunity to use story so people can better understand the good work you all are doing.”
Ben adds, “I sort of fell into chocolate by accident, not like the rest of us.” He jokes. The group laughs in agreement. “There is a desire to work collaboratively within an industry, and the extent to which I see chocolate makers working together with one another is pretty impressive. This is something i’ve really appreciated. The values are shared values, so this is an opportunity, whether it’s establishing a group of core principles or just to work on certain pieces of things where we align and keep doing that. Core principles can come from that work and from building trusted relationships.”
Mayra shares, “ I see many coffee producers are moving in cacao, as a way to diversify. Coming to this is really exciting for me as coffee doesn’t have this community as I find here. You are at the beginning and setting the stage. You may not come up with a set of rules but you are having these open conversations. This is an exciting passionate community. We should be learning from you and I want to see how we can replicate this [type of collaboration] in speciality coffee.
Lawrence suggests, “Chocolate is a vehicle for talking about [our values] and these issues. It’s about engaging people into this story and is a way to tell the collective story of all these themes.”
~ end of discussion.
Thank you to all who participated in this session and to the readers for your interest in this collective journey. It is a joy to be of service to facilitate and amplify the passionate and committed voices of those who wish to make the world a better place.
Session 2 Participants
Lucie Argelies, Barefoot College
Catherine Campbell, Marker Campbell Consulting
Ben Feldman, Haitian Chocolate Project
Molly Gore, Dandelion Chocolate
Laura Kowler, Solidaridad – remote
Pei-Ru Keh, Real Food Real Stories
Zohara Mapes Bediz, TCHO
Lawrence Nussbaum, Collaborative Trade Fellow, From the Ground Up
Mayra Orellana-Powell, Catracha Coffee / Royal Coffee
Sunita de Tourreil , The Chocolate Garage