Vol. 127 - NO. 39

Blog Startup CPG

SINCE 2019

The True Cost
of Cocoa


Karen Blackwell is the CEO of Kanda Chocolates, a benefit corporation that produces Fair Trade, Non-GMO Chocolate that is grown, processed, and packaged in Ghana.

Chocolate is an aphrodisiac. A mood changer. A spirit lifter. And according to the Aztec leaders who drank large quantities of it, it’s a libido enhancer. But as the founder of craft chocolate brand Kanda Chocolates, I’ve learned that the business behind this indulgent treat is anything but sexy.

The Challenge with Ghanaian Chocolate

A few years ago, I traveled with friends to Ghana for a business mission trip with the National Black MBA Association. During the trip, we were exposed to all aspects of Ghana, including business, politics, education, and culture. I ate at the home of the immediate past president, danced in the U.S. Embassy, and immersed myself in all things Ghanaian culture.I even had the opportunity to visit the local university to talk about my love for Ghanaian chocolate, which inspired Kanda Chocolates.

During my visit, I learned that some of the university students had traded in their family tradition of cocoa farming in exchange for a more cosmopolitan job. This was surprising to me; since cocoa farming was brought to Ghana, the techniques and processes have been passed down from generation to generation. It was common to be able to trace a cocoa lineage back to a family who lived on that cocoa farm. Today, 800,000 small scale cocoa farmers make up 60% of the country’s agricultural base. Ghana is heavily dependent on cocoa farming — but I learned that the new generation of working adults wanted to stray from the business.

As I spoke to the students, I quickly learned that this ancestral practice was in danger, and so was the cocoa product. West Africa was pushing back on the $130 billion-dollar chocolate companies and asking for a bigger piece of the pie. Cocoa bean farmers were then stuck with surplus as those chocolate makers turned to other sources. Subsequently, those cocoa farmers have now chosen to plant fewer cocoa plants, which disrupted the system and their livelihoods. Today, cocoa farmers are the lowest earning stakeholders in the sale of chocolate. Earning just 6.6% of the retail price of chocolate, cocoa farmers are earning well below the extreme poverty line. These students weren’t the rebellious exception to an age-old tradition — they were protecting themselves from unjust work.

How to Be a Chocolate Ally

Our chocolate at Kanda Chocolates is grown, processed, and packaged in Ghana. We chose Ghana as a source for two reasons: First, we traced the best quality cocoa beans to Ghana. Belgium, known for the best chocolate in the world, sources a majority of their cocoa from Ghana. Second, we wanted to contribute to the local Ghanaian economy. Today, the Ghanaian government owns every cocoa bean that is produced in the country. And while Ghana is the 2nd largest exporter of cocoa in the world, they export less than 1% in finished chocolate. Choosing to have our chocolate made in Ghana allows us to contribute to jobs and the overall export of finished chocolate.

As a chocolate lover and producer, we created a company focused on doing good. However, we weren’t doing our part to ensure that a Fair wage was paid to the cocoa farmers. Purchasing Fair trade chocolate deters child labor, promotes sustainable harvests, and it pays a premium directly to the cocoa farmers. We simply weren’t doing our part to help chocolate survive. As a small startup, we looked into getting certified for Fair trade cocoa — but the cost seemed daunting. While certifying was still a crucial future goal for us, we knew we had to do our part to help in the interim — and we found a solution.

Pennies for Progress

We were so happy to find out that we could purchase certified Fair trade cocoa from certified farmers — without having to certify as a company ourselves. This was a game changer; not only was this the simplest way to ensure worker fairness, but it hardly cost us anything. Fair trade cocoa is paid through a premium of 2-3% on top of the current cost of cocoa. For every dollar of cocoa purchased, that’s 2-3 cents paid in a premium to ensure that farmers are paid a fair wage. Essentially, it added up to an investment of pennies to purchase Fair trade cocoa — but it made a world of a difference to the workers and industry in Ghana.

If you are a chocolate lover, a chocolate maker, or an includer of chocolate in our product recipes, I’m making an appeal. On your next cocoa purchase – whether it’s to indulge or create – consider purchasing Fair Trade chocolate. Consider it an investment in the future of chocolate – because it literally is.

If you want to continue to enjoy the sexiness of chocolate, consider purchasing certified Fair trade cocoa. As we all do our part, we won’t just help the current cocoa farmers, but may just inspire future university students to pursue this path and uphold tradition. Together, we can save chocolate with just a few extra pennies.

If you are looking to be Fair Trade certified, there are two Fair Trade certification bodies in the US: https://www.fairtrade.net/ and https://www.fairtradecertified.org/. If you are not ready to certify your business, you can purchase fair trade raw cocoa by searching for cocoa farms and suppliers within the partner directory.

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