Patrick Poirrier, who is also the president of French chocolate trade body Syndicat du Chocolat, said unless consumers pay more for sustainable chocolate, competing companies will always offer cheaper chocolate via paying lower cocoa prices, keeping farmers in poverty and the sector unsustainable.
"It's a taboo," he told ConfectioneryNews at the World Cocoa Foundation's (WCF) Partnership Meeting in Washington in October this year.
"But the consumer has to pay more for better quality food and for a sustainable supply chain."
Big player in France
Cémoi is a major player in the French chocolate market. It sells products under its own brand and also produces premium chocolate for major French supermarket chains. The Perpignan-based family company also supplies cocoa ingredients to B2B customers. It is a member of the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF). However, it is not among the nine companies part of WCF's cocoa sustainability platform CocoaAction. Other large companies not part of CocoaAction include Touton and major cocoa trader Ecom.
Poirrier said it would cost consumers only a little more to shop for sustainable chocolate.
"It's not a lot of money, but the impact at origin will be enormous.
"By paying more [farmers] will have premiums and you will also be able to increase their revenue,” he said.
West African cocoa farmers typically earn around $1 a day, far below the threshold for absolute poverty, according to a recent study by Barry Callebaut.
Syndicat du Chocolat held a conference earlier this year in Paris to provide the French press and retailers an overview of the cocoa supply chain. It hopes resultant media articles will inspire consumers to pay more for sustainable chocolate.
French chocolate makers committed to CEN
Poirrier said Syndicat du Chocolat members are committed to working towards the incoming European Committee for Standardization (CEN) definition of sustainable cocoa.
CEN and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) announced in 2014 they would create a voluntary framework for traceable and sustainable cocoa that can be used as a reference for company programs and for origin governments.
French chocolate market:
- Average annual chocolate consumption per capita: 7.6 kg (5th in the world)
- 452,000 tons of chocolate manufactured in mainland France in 2016
- 15,852 employees across 120 companies
[Syndicat du Chocolat]
An international farmer trade group last year alleged the standard could drive farmers deeper into poverty, while the chair of the committee behind the standard said it would make farmers more competitive.
Cémoi’s Poirrier said Syndicat du Chocolat is part of a working group helping to develop the standard.
"We have the first draft of the CEN standard and we will have a final draft next year,” he said.
CEN/ISO initially planned to launch the standard by the end of 2016.
But will French chocolate companies commit to sourcing 100% of their volumes to the standard once it is published?
"It will be for every company to make its own commitment,” said Poirrier. “Of course at Syndicat du Chocolat we will try to have a global commitment from everybody, but you can’t force anybody to go for it."
The Cémoi chief said the CEN/ISO standard would help the 95% of global holders to become more organized. He said industry support to mobilize smallholders into organized groups or cooperatives is crucial for a sustainable sector.
Some cocoa farming trade bodies say companies should only group smallholder cocoa farmers in partnership with credible farmer organizations or existing co-ops to ensure they are truly independent. They allege there is a growing number of so-called ‘fake cooperatives’ bound to chocolate companies and cocoa traders that provide financial assistance.
"Transport and logistics is one of the biggest issues," he said.
"Organization of farmers is the big gap you have between Africa and South America. In South America they transport fresh cocoa only hundreds of kilometers in trucks."
But he said in remote areas in Africa, the infrastructure is poor and farmers often receive less than the government guaranteed price of CFA 700 ($1.26) per kg, partly due to inaccurate weighing systems.
"Even with the CFA 700 price, if you go far away from the roads, people don't pay CFA 700, they pay CFA 600," claimed Poirrier.
He said well-organized South American farmers are resilient even when prices decline.
"But in Africa with a lower yield and lower price it's a real disaster…As a chocolate manufacturer I would prefer to have a high price all the time for farmers."
Deforestation the top concern for French policy makers
In 2010, the Dutch government agreed with industry to ensure all chocolate products produced for the Dutch market would be ‘fully sustainable’ by 2025.
It came after Dutch investigative journalists unearthed widespread unlawful child labor in cocoa origin countries.
No other major cocoa-consuming nation has made a similar commitment on sustainable cocoa.
"France is a little different,” said Poirrier. “Where we see a lot of pressure at the moment is on forest protection. It's a new angle….It’s something that is pushed by the French government.
He said the French government’s focus on forest protection was not limited to cocoa, but to all crops.
"The commitment from the French [chocolate] industry will go more this way,” he said.
Last month dozens of chocolate companies, processors and retailers committed to the Cocoa and Forests Initiative, a joint effort from the chocolate industry and Ivorian and Ghanaian governments to tackle cocoa-driven deforestation.
Signatories to the initiative - such as Mars, Barry Callebaut as well as Cémoi - pledge not to source from certain protected areas in West Africa.
No longer difficult to talk about productivity, says Cémoi boss
Poirrier said while some industry players may see a focus on deforestation as a constraint on cocoa sourcing, he argued it would help the supply in the end.
"In the past it was sometimes difficult in origin countries to talk about productivity because people thought productivity meant increased production and a price decrease."
But he said upping productivity on legal plantations was a key component of the Cocoa and Forests Initiative which will also help address other supply chain problems.
"Child labor is a consequence of bad revenue for farmers. We need to find a way to increase globally the revenue of farmers. By increasing the productivity of farming, you are addressing this point,” said the Cémoi CEO.