ConfectioneryNews correspondents recently did a vox pop project, including questioning consumers in Chicago whether they could recognize sustainability labels on the packaging of chocolate, such as Nestlé’s Cocoa Plan and Rainforest Alliance.
However, the result contradicted an earlier report that shows nearly half of the consumers can recognize those labels.
“This is not 50%. Only two of the respondents had any clue as to what they were talking about,” Donaldson commented on the video. “Non-GMO is not a sustainability label, although several thought it was.”
Donaldson told ConfectioneryNews that he has worked in the cocoa and chocolate industry for about 30 years. He previously worked at Barry Callebaut as managing director for nine years, and was director of cocoa sustainability at Petra Foods, according to his LinkedIn account.
He mentioned that there is a misconception among consumers that cocoa sustainability is linked to quality, which is not the case.
“It may or may not improve the quality of the product, but its aim is to improve that social economic environment for cocoa farmers and their families,” Donaldson said. “Otherwise, they will die out and we will have not enough cocoa.”
The lack of a global standard
Consumers are totally confused by a myriad of different claims and sustainability brands, all of which compete with each other, and all of which change their standards on a regular basis, “normally downwards” to meet changing market conditions, Donaldson pointed out.
“Credibility, monitoring and evaluation of projects in cocoa growing regions is well understood to be very challenging and unreliable on many occasions,” he said.
“Cocoa sustainability will never be correctly understood unless there is one global standard, that is not a competitive tool for brands to use.”
However, most public companies, such as Hershey, Mondelēz and Unilever, are not able to receive investment funds unless they participate in sustainability projects, according to Donaldson’s experience.
“The brand represents 80% value of a company. Investments in those [sustainability] programs are meant to help maintain the brand image,” he said.
In Donaldson’s opinion, Mars only has fair trade labels in the UK, because it wants to compete with Cadbury. Mars did not immediately comment on their cocoa sustainability strategy in the UK.
Mondelēz recently teamed up with Fairtrade to expand its Cocoa Life program to its Cadbury brand, this site reported last month. Cadbury products in the UK and Ireland will carry a small Fairtrade Foundation logo on the back of pack and a larger Cocoa Life logo on the front.
A recent Euromonitor report shows that there is a growing number of boxed chocolates in many Western European countries that now carry ethical labels.
“In Germany, for example, retail sales of boxed chocolates bearing at least one ethical label reached $1.4bn, and $1.3bn in the UK in 2015,” the report said.
However, senior analyst from the market research firm, Hope Lee, said that it will take time for chocolate manufacturers to standardize their ethical labeling efforts in both developed and developing markets.
“If [chocolate manufacturers] continue to use sustainability claims as a competitive edge, the consumer will always be cynical,” Donaldson said.