TAZA CHOCOLATE DIRECT TRADE CERTIFIED CACAO
We are chocolate pioneers.
Taza makes stone ground chocolate that is seriously good and fair for all. From farm to factory, we do things differently.
We do things transparently.
It starts with Taza Direct Trade. We said no to opaque supply chains and low-quality cacao. We created the chocolate industry's first third-party certified Direct Trade cacao sourcing program, to ensure quality and transparency for all. We have real, face-to-face relationships with partners who respect the environment and fair labor practices. They provide us with the best organic cacao, and we pay them prices significantly higher than Fair Trade. In fact, you can see exactly what we pay them, right here in our 2018 Annual Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report.
Taza Direct Trade means more money for our partners, the best cacao for us, and seriously good chocolate for you.
THIRD PARTY CERTIFICATION
We’re serious about transparency and trust. To guarantee the integrity of our Direct Trade program, our five Direct Trade claims are independently verified each year by Quality Certification Services, a USDA-accredited organic certifier based in Gainesville, Florida. See our five verified claims here.
YEAR IN REVIEW: Breaking the (Chocolate) Mold
By Jesse Last, Taza Chocolate Director of Sourcing & Strategic Initiatives | December 2018
In 2017, Taza’s R&D Team brought me a challenge. Our Dominican and Haitian cacao boasts a bright and fruity flavor, but my colleagues’ newest creation called for a rich and fudgy one. As always, the cacao they required also had to be organic certified, consistently available, and delivered by a partner who shares our Direct Trade commitment to doing business that is seriously good and fair for all.
I began searching in South America. Next, I scoured Central America and the Caribbean. Empty handed, I investigated Asia and Oceana. Still nothing. I had avoided West Africa based on my impression of limited organic production, but when I came across ABOCFA, an organic farmer association in Ghana, I sent an email and a prayer across the Atlantic.
If there is sourcing love at first sight, this was it. The Association Manager’s prompt, professional reply, ABOCFA’s decade-plus track record of ethical and organic production, and when I roasted the cacao sample they sent me… brownie notes wafting through the factory! I scheduled a call with Stephen Ashia, ABOCFA’s Manager, and everything lined up. That is, until I casually asked, “So, who has been buying your beans to date?” Stephen’s answer - Tony’s Chocolonely - caused my heart to drop.
Learning ABOCFA worked with Tony’s was like finding out my crush was already seeing someone. And not just anyone, but a charismatic classmate. A Dutch one who recently moved from the Netherlands to the US and suddenly everyone wants a piece of, or even an entire bar. I’d finally found the Direct Trade partner of my dreams, only to discover that one of Taza’s competitors was already buying their beans!
Dramatic? Sure, but here’s the thing. When I joined Taza four years ago, I did so inspired by the Direct Trade cacao program that our founders, Kathleen and Alex, had pioneered. I could not wait to build on their tradition of sourcing innovation and adventure. I wanted to find new origins, blaze trails alongside bold partners, and contribute to building a more ethical chocolate industry.
And over time, I've made some contributions I am really proud of - helping Taza become the first US chocolate maker to import high quality, organic cacao from Haiti; marketing this and our other partners’ exceptional beans to grow their markets and build their brands; and, sharing our Direct Trade program with anyone who asked, inside or outside the chocolate industry.
ABOCFA’s journey to become Ghana’s first and largest Organic-certified farmer association checked the box of trail-blazing Partner. But the Association had blazed the trail with Tony’s, not Taza. My initial disappointment only faded when I recognized ABOCFA and Tony’s history as a foundation to build upon; when I considered a competitor could also be an ally. This year’s Report reflects this broader perspective.
Part 1, Breaking the Mold, shows how Taza challenges the status quo to grow more direct, transparent, and ethical sourcing partnerships. Part 2, Spreading the Word (and Beans!), describes how we share our strategies - and the cacao beans we source - with others in the chocolate industry. Part 3, Finding Fellow Travelers, is a conversation between me my counterpart at Tony’s, Arjen Boekhold, around our work with ABOCFA and how despite our chocolate competing on the shelves, we might collaborate at origin.
Last but certainly not least, this year’s Partner Updates highlight the diverse ways our Partners also do it differently. From OKO Caribe building a chocolate factory to PISA building Haiti’s reputation for exceptional cacao, our Partners share the view that when the status quote is not seriously good and fair for all, we change it! And as this year’s experience with ABOCFA reminded me, the most exciting and impactful change happens when all of us, from farmer to consumer, work together.
Yours in Transparency,
3 WAYS WE DO SOURCING DIFFERENTLY:
1. BREAKING THE (CHOCOLATE) MOLD ⌵
Taza co-founders Alex Whitmore (pictured here) and Kathleen Fulton began to source directly from farms to secure exceptional organic cacao
When I joined Taza Chocolate, I quickly learned that our co-founders do things differently. It’s not that Kathleen and Alex rebel against business as usual just for the fun. When they are passionate about an idea, and their idea collides with the status quo, the status quo evolves.
Stone grinding cacao is one of these ideas. It’s how humans prepared chocolate for most of the 5,000 plus years we’ve consumed it. However, in 1879, Swiss inventor Rodolphe Lindt created the conch - a machine that processes cacao beans for hours or even days - and ushered in the era of smooth chocolate. Unfortunately, his invention also diminished cacao beans’ bold flavors, a loss made worse as large chocolate factories replaced real cacao with cheaper ingredients like sugar, milk, and artificial flavoring.
Kathleen and Alex believe bolder is better, including bold chocolate. Taza stone grinds organic cacao - no conching, thanks! - to keep the beans’ bold flavors in our bars. This minimal processing also demands high quality, organic beans. However, when Kathleen and Alex began Taza in 2005, cacao brokers were offering either high quality or organic certified cacao, but not both.
The status quo was about to change. Alex traveled to the Dominican Republic, met the farmer cooperative La Red Guaconejo, and by guaranteeing a price premium well above that of Fair Trade, supported 100+ farmers as they invested in quality control and organic agriculture. Soon after, the “non-existent” cacao boasting both quality and organic certification arrived in Boston on JetBlue.
Our partnership with La Red Guaconejo represented a new sourcing model, Taza Direct Trade, in which farmer and chocolate maker share the reward of making a great product. Several years after meeting the cooperative, Taza guaranteed the integrity of our ethical sourcing program by becoming the chocolate industry’s first third-party verified Direct Trade program.
Our commitment to cacao quality and ethical trade is matched only by our belief in transparency. In 2012, Taza published the industry’s first Transparency Report and reported the higher-than-Fair Trade prices we pay our partners as part of our Direct Trade program. We do the same every year, and in 2016, we upped the ante again when we published farm level pricing and tackled tough issues of value and fairness in the supply chain. We don’t claim to have all the answers, but we aren’t afraid to ask hard questions around what it takes to be seriously good and fair for all and to share what we learn with others.
2. SPREADING THE WORD (AND BEANS!) ⌵
Jesse and Alex join PISA's Gilbert, Aline and Chiquito in their cacao warehouse in northern Haiti
When we published our first Transparency Report in 2012, sharing our sourcing partner relationships and the cacao prices we paid them struck many in the secretive chocolate industry as unusual at best and bad for business at worst. Alex was undeterred. As he wrote at the time: “We are committed to being connected to our cacao producers, and we want our customers to be as well.”
As it turned out, consumers appreciated our transparency, and other chocolate makers took note. Since then, fellow chocolate makers including Dandelion Chocolate and Askinosie Chocolate have produced their own reports, reinforcing transparency as a core tenet of Direct Trade. Other businesses have gone a step further and adopted not only the Transparency Report but also our larger Direct Trade program. When our friends at Madécasse Chocolate reached out in 2016, we were happy to share our Standard Operating Procedure so the company could join the Direct Trade fold. A year later, we were excited when Bay State Milling, a Boston-area flour and grain miller, asked to learn about Direct Trade, eventually shaping it into their Partner Sourced Ingredients program.
In addition to our Direct Trade practices, we’ve spread our Origin Partners’ cacao. We began brokering OKO Caribe and Finca Elvesia cacao beans when several chocolate makers, too small to import their own containers of beans, asked to buy some of ours. At first, we sold cacao to a few makers in the US, but by 2016, we had buyers across the US, Canada, Europe, Australia and Japan! Our sales benefitted our Origin Partners as well by creating a premium market for their cacao, which was especially valuable to PISA as it sought to build Haiti’s reputation as producing some of the world’s finest cacao.
Today, we’ve gotten out of the bean brokering business to keep our eyes on the chocolate prize, but we still do what we can to help our partners market their cacao. In fact, we’ve already introduced our newest partner ABOCFA to several chocolate makers with the hope that the craft chocolate industry will realize what we did this last year - that West Africa does have high quality, organic, and ethically traded cacao worth turning into delicious chocolate!
3. FINDING FELLOW TRAVELERS ⌵
Jesse and Kingsley, the President of the ABOCFA Farmers Association, formalize our new partnership with the Taza Chocolate Direct Trade Agreement
In the following conversation, Arjen Boekhold, Chocolate Game Changer at Tony’s Chocolonely, and I discuss ABOCFA, the balance between competition and collaboration, and how we can work together to build a slave-free chocolate industry that is seriously good and fair for all. A sincere thank you to Arjen for chatting with me and sharing his thoughts!
JL: How did Tony's meet ABOCFA? What about the Association convinced you these farmers would make great partners?
AB: Tony’s Chocolonely is crazy about chocolate and serious about people! As such we are always on a search for producers who take their destiny into their own hands. ABOCFA was the first Organic and Fairtrade cacao cooperative in West Africa, but no buyer was interested in buying its cacao. Unfortunately, their story is common; in a world of big choco-giants, farmers are too often price takers and unable to find their way in the international market. Tony’s Chocolonely started a long-term relationship with ABOCFA to show that business can be done differently and in a way whereby we improve together in order to make poverty and child labour history.
AB: I’ve known of Taza for a long time. Many American companies are reluctant to start buying cacao in West Africa. Why did you decide to do so?
JL: I think some US chocolate companies are unaware of the possibilities in West Africa. Before learning about ABOCFA, I know I was! I didn’t think there were good organic options, which for Taza is a must. Similarly, we only work with partners committed to fair labor practices, and as you know, there is the challenge of child and even slave labor in the West African cacao sector. It took lots of research and eventually an in-person visit to Ghana before I felt certain that ABOCFA shared Taza’s values. It also helped to learn that you and your colleagues at Tony’s, a company committed to eradicating slavery from the chocolate industry, have spent nearly a decade working with ABOCFA. In a sense, you helped pave the way in West Africa for us, and together, I hope we can pave the way for many others!
JL: Here we are having this nice conversation, but technically, we're competitors. Why didn't you hang up on me when I called, Arjen?
AB: Tony’s mission is to create a 100% slave-free chocolate industry, and as we say: only together can we make chocolate 100% slave-free. The more companies working on improving the livelihoods of producers, the better. In that sense Taza is a true example of a company with a genuine(!) belief and different way of doing business. Direct relationships for example are key in this.
AB: How about you, Jesse? Do you see Tony’s and Taza as competitors or cho-colleagues?
JL: Both, but I definitely favor “cho-colleagues!” It’s true that many of the same retailers carry our brands. That said, our actual chocolate is quite different in taste and texture. Most importantly, when you look at our combined sales, we’re a drop in the bucket compared to the big chocolate companies that are more interested in profits than fair relationships with cacao farmers. In this sense, any “competitor” that shares our commitment to a chocolate industry that is seriously good and fair for all is also a partner. As a leader in educating consumers and changing the industry, Tony’s certainly qualifies!
JL: Based on your experience, how can you see Taza adding value to ABOCFA and this supply chain?
AB: First and foremost, the more customers of ABOCFA cacao the better! Second of all, Taza is truly committed to building long term relationships and that is what is needed for real change. Finally, Taza’s expertise and experience with high quality cocoa can also bring added value to ABOCFA.
AB: What is Taza’s biggest added value for farmers once they supply to Taza?
JL: The most immediate value is the higher-than-Fairtrade prices we pay for cacao. With so many cacao farmers living hand to mouth, higher prices matter. Over time though, it may be other benefits of working with Taza: introductions we make to fellow chocolate makers that help the farmers sell more cacao; exchanges we facilitate between our Direct Trade partners so they can share learnings around quality and sales tactics; and on a fundamental level, the sense of being a respected partner in a relationship where, as our co-founder Alex says, “both farmer and chocolate maker share the reward of making a great product.”
JL: We say it in different ways, but at the end of the day, Taza and Tony's share the vision of a chocolate industry where everyone prospers, including cacao farmers. Moving forward, how might Tony's and Taza collaborate to achieve this vision?
AB: There are so many opportunities; we both need to inform and motivate consumers to make different choices. By responsible and conscious sourcing from cooperatives in West Africa, we can improve the livelihoods of more farmers and jointly boost our impact. We could, for example, join forces in supporting local education or training initiatives to enable farmers and their children to improve their livelihoods structurally for the better.
JL: Great ideas, Arjen. I hope a year from now, we’ll be talking about some shared successes!
2017 PARTNER REPORTS
ÖKO Caribe Cacao
ÖKO Caribe Cacao