Date: September 13, 2014, International Chocolate Day Location: Oakland, CA
Yellow Seed gathered individuals and chocolate makers, including three Californian small-batch operations, to talk about Yellow Seed and how we might best support craft chocolate making.
In attendance were:
- David Menkes, LetterPress Chocolate, LA
- Eli Curtis and Tracey Britton, Bisou Chocolate, Berkeley
- Richard and Landen Zernicknow, Root Chocolate, Millbrae
- Julie Pearne, Independent consultant
Quoted: What were the makers saying?
As follows are some of our favorite maker quotes from the weekend:
“I like sourcing new bean flavors. For me it’s fun to play with different types to see what I can do with them.”
“We’re all like chefs. We have different preferences, methods and experiences as well as different preferences, palates and goals in making chocolate. And every bean has special quality that you can bring out the nuance out of it. Therefore, it’s really interesting to see how we each evaluate the flavor and quality.”
“I don’t want any [fees] paid on the part of the farmer.”
“Having a transparent supply chain and connection with farmer makes [a connection to a bean product] that much more valuable.”
“The sharing of knowledge is what I’ve run into as a bottleneck in the months I’ve been getting started.”
“I don’t think that knowledge should be contained or tucked away. I think that if someone has a good idea to be able to share information – then share that with as many people as possible – so everyone wins. I think we can all benefit by sharing and collaborating. That’s what I’m all about.”
“There is a tremendous complexity of going from tree to bar. There should be ways to make this process less challenging and more accessible for new makers.”
Maker aims for the meet-up
Before we began, we asked the room what they hoped to get out of the meeting and what they were most interested in hearing about. Here is a summary of responses.
- Connect with and get to know other makers
- Know where makers currently source their beans
- Learn how to connect more directly with farmers and gain access to more specific origins
Yellow Seed Q & A
The following are questions were fielded from the chocolate makers who attended the meetup event and weekend gathering. Answers are quotes from Yellow Seed or a summary response from the conversation. We’ve organized questions into the following discussion topics: (1) The Yellow Seed Model (2) Bean Match Program (3) Farmer Groups and Origin (4) Logistics and Shipping (5) Processing and Consistency
Yellow Seed Model:
Q: What does Yellow Seed do?
A: Well, what do you want it to do?
Yellow Seed Summary:
Chocolate makers have been asking how to improve access to quality sources of cacao beans and make the logistics and distribution process easier. “Do you handle logistics? Do you warehouse? Do you process samples?” are common questions. “Yes!” is the answer, in that Yellow Seed can connect you to someone who does so or knows the answer. After all existing resources are utilized and if a gap still exists, then Yellow Seed can address requests.
Yellow Seed facilitates connection and information sharing between makers to makers, farmer groups to makers and eventually farmer to farmer in the forms of toolkits, templates, best practices and an open forum platform for users. Yellow Seed provides the space and container for people to connect, find information and to focus on the aspects of the supply chain that they enjoy being a part of most.
For example, someone may desire to share information about what they’ve learned about quality control and batch processing on the ground, yet would like to learn more information from experts on inoculation techniques or varietals from an ecological perspective. Rather than learning everything themselves, collaboration with the network provides speed and efficiencies. As that individual communicates his interests and needs in a way that is heard, relevant and aligned with the rest of the community, others can begin to self organize and connect. The site itself is a social network thus an inherent feedback system with built in learning and improvement systems. Information around harvest and shipment quality for makers, chocolate production between makers, and then bean feedback for the farmers are the primary exchanges we facilitate in these connections.
Our goal is to help everyone along this chain make better, more transparent decisions while aligning self-organization around individual and collective goals. In this the fun begins for people to feel like their unique skills and talents provide value for the whole and in doing so, they can accomplish something that was not possible before for small batch chocolate makers. Namely, in this instance, collaborative shipping. The mindset shifts from “Yellow Seed, what can you do and provide us?” to “How can we participate? and “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could…”
Yellow Seed says, yes, let’s try it – provided that it’s aligned and meets the conditions set by Yellow Seed and the group.
Bean Match Program:
Q: What is the Bean Match Program?
A: The program is designed to help small makers like you collaborate together on joint shipping purchases. Yellow Seed acts as the community backbone support ensuring consistent and continuous information flow to and coordination of everyone along the chain. The aim of the program is to enable smaller makers have the chance to source beans more directly from a variety of farmer groups while maintaining consistency of demand, data stabilization and feedback for farmers.
Specifically, Yellow Seed provides: profile hosting, product and associated farmer group search and match-making, social design for collaborative purchasing and distribution, access to tools for tracking, quality processing and inventory management, and continuous feedback in communication.
Q: What does match-making mean exactly?
A: Yellow Seed matches preferences, skills and resources of chocolate makers with one another to facilitate the shipment of large purchases and containers of cacao from the country of origin to the end destination maker. In this way, Yellow Seed exists to improve trading relationships. Our eventual platform is designed first as a social networking site and second as a transactional marketplace. The benefits of collaboration and improved trading relationships include greater transparency, supply chain efficiency and resource sharing to enable more chocolate makers to source directly from smaller scale farms.
Q: How is Yellow Seed currently funded and how will it sustain itself?
A: Currently, Yellow Seed is donation funded through friends and family and is accepting additional supporting funds towards our 501(c)3 mission. The aim of the Bean Match prototype is to assess the current demand and to test financial viability of its design, namely its business model. Revenue streams include membership, coordination fees of setting up collaborative shipments, and service fees for additional services needed. As a nonprofit, profits generated are redistributed to improve the design and functionality of Yellow Seed communication tools and to support basic operations. Improvements to farmer groups and quality will be funded through community contributions as a percentage of product purchases and incoming donations. Community projects or needs will be funded via percentage fee of joint purchases.
Q: Is there a sense of exclusivity? What prevents buyers from going on the site and then circumventing? In other words, how do you ensure Yellow Seed is getting something out of the connections made on the site (financially)?
A: Yellow Seed is based on inclusivity and sharing. It is possible that buyers could go to the site, learn about a farmer group and then directly source from the farm. In one sense, that would still meet our mission in improving farmer access to markets. The bean match program and eventual website solves for challenges with access and distribution through collaboration. For example, many small makers are willing to purchase high quality cacao by the pound in smaller quantities but at a premium price while larger buyers have a greater exposure to fluctuation in price but are looking for ways to reduce risks of financing larger purchase orders. We craft the collaboration process for people to work together and create efficiencies.
Q: Is profile hosting for farmers as well as for makers? Is it a two way thing where farmers can see buyers too?
A: Yes, chocolate makers can set up their own public and member-facing profiles to facilitate learning and information sharing. The more interactive (videos) and photographic content you provide, the more vibrant your world of craft and production can be to a wider audience.
Q: Will a lot of the site information redirect to existing chocolate content online?
A: The site will act as a container to support the interests and conversations that facilitate connection and improvement. There will be dedicated areas to link to information already created to make it easier to share information or tell your story.
Q: For farms under contract with the Hershey’s and Cargills of the world, could Yellow Seed potentially attract those farmers from big companies with price differentials?
A: As an inclusive model, the site invites participation from a wide and diverse audience. Yellow Seed sets up basic parameters and criteria for hosting profiles and members who collaborate on purchases have a chance to set up standards and conditions for purchasing. Again, the idea is about matching preferences and needs of the community as those needs evolve, rather than simply drawing lines in the sand.
Connection to Origin and Farmer Groups:
“Right now it seems that chocolate makers are making chocolate from the same farm sources that are available on the market. My interest and goal is to increase product diversity” [to enable small-scale buyers access to a variety of bean sources].
Q: How does Yellow Seed connect and work with farmer groups?
A: Verified members of Yellow Seed can suggest or host farmer groups to appear on the registry. Social networking features will allow users to add their comments and thoughts to profiles posted in order to support verification and information sharing.
Yellow Seed is currently curating three farmer groups in Peru that fall in a sweet spot of “market ready” yet not regularly selling into markets. We aim to work with these farms to better understand how we can provide tools and services to improve quality and market connection. Our learning will translate into shared knowledge and additional Yellow Seed services such as quality assessment and training funded through additional fees in a collaborative shipment or through donation based projects.
Q: How does Yellow Seed reach small-scale farmers?
A: The aim is to create systems of horizontal learning, so as demand increases, more and more farmers can come “online” and participate within the markets. For example, if a buyer group creates a successful long-term relationship with a farmer group and demand for the product increases such that existing capacity is reached, that cooperative can opt to purchase more beans from neighboring farmers in the area or become a demonstration farm to nearby farmer groups in order to improve quality and access of supply.
Q: “Is Yellow Seed going down and checking on farms? Or do you rely on other makers to do that? Are you in the business of discovery?”
A: Makers and travelers know origins better than anyone. Yellow Seed’s role is to create the container to highlight the needs of the farmer in a way that is relatively current, continuous, and relevant to the conversation. In the case of “checking in,” the aim is to build up a supportive network of people and resources who can answer questions and respond to concerns as they arise. Specifically, buyers request that orders of beans meet expectations and standards set while improving or maintaining quality and consistency over time. To do so, challenges that arise can be flagged via the network. As goals become defined and needs become more visible, a wider community can participate and align efforts.
Q: How does Yellow Seed communicate the story of the farmer group? “It might not be the best bean you ever had, but the backstory can make it worth it. Having a direct chain of supply and connection with the farmer is key.”
A: Yellow Seed solicits stories and updates from its members and community of users. Large to medium buyers can utilize Yellow Seed’s hosting tools to share their experiences from the farm while reselling their product to smaller makers. Travelers and other members can add comments and share information.
Yellow Seed maintains connection and contact information to the farmer group until the purchase order is solicited from the lead buyer of a shipping container, known as a pod leader. The pod leader also meets certain criteria and is verified by the pod group.
Q: How do you guarantee that the people in developing countries are getting paid the price indicated?
A: We are in conversation with partners and developers to find an appropriate mobile solution that could provide verification services that payment to individual farmers is received via the farmer group. Suggestions are welcome.
Logistics and supply chain coordination:
Q: So how does the shipping work? How does paying on shipment work?
A: To begin, Yellow Seed will work with buyers that have existing relationships to import and ship beans. Eventually tools on the site allow opportunities to make recommendations or offer suggestions on shipping services or ways to improve costs or efficiency. Payment is set by the lead purchaser and supporting buyers have the option to commit to purchase or negotiate terms.
Q: Do you facilitate shipping of beans for makers purchasing under a ton of beans per year? I need help with storage and processing. Will Yellow Seed warehouse beans? Will Yellow Seed be splitting bags?
A: In general, matchmaking and eventual site tools will help us estimate demand. Yellow Seed communicates that demand to stakeholders who can opt in to facilitate the order processing or Yellow Seed can fulfill a request.
We are exploring options for inventory, tracking and quality data management to ensure consistency and security of farm data and coordination throughout the supply chain.
Q: If I have financial ability to bring in a container, but I don’t have storage/processing capacity, what controls the pricing and interactions for me to resell through Yellow Seed?
A: The lead purchaser can opt into service discounts or make service requests. Other members then have the option to offer additional services, expertise or resources as needed. Ultimately, lower costs and efficiency for collectively purchasing a shipping container incentivizes collaboration and resource sharing. Yellow Seed coordinates the interaction and facilitates setting up the conditions for exchange.
On Processing and Consistency:
Q: How does Yellow Seed guarantee quality?
A: Yellow Seed does not guarantee quality. Ultimately, the process of quality improvement is shared and distributed across its member community. The aim of the site is to improve communication so that users can participate in the conversation and offer ideas and resources towards a common goal.
For example, a user can offer feedback of a sample of beans and include questions that may help the facilitator or farmer pinpoint the challenge. This then becomes a learning conversation where both the buyer and farmer win.
Q: How does Yellow Seed ensure that samples are representative of the actual shipment or order? For example, makers mentioned “sometimes we get samples from the farm and the shipment from the next harvest season 7-12 months later.”
A: Ensuring complete consistency is difficult as there is variability from season to season. Yellow Seed will work with buyers and resellers of all types to coordinate shipments of samples and containers of beans in a way that creates supply chain efficiencies. Our aim is to ship samples from the same season but that will depend on the existing relationships, nature of purchase order and availability of the beans. Yellow Seed focuses its efforts on coordination and collection of feedback to improve processing and consistency. Improving supply chain coordination and communication between both farmers and buyers and buyers within buyer groups is to improve access to supply and variety of cacao available, where buyers can celebrate differences between batches and harvests while improving consistent access to quality of the bean.
Stay tuned for continuing information on the Bean Match program.
Contact hello (at) yellow-seed.org to express your interest in receiving future updates.