Small chocolate companies can ‘move the needle’ in cocoa sustainability, says Seattle Chocolate CEO
Jean Thompson recently noted the difficulties of getting regional chocolate makers directly involved with cocoa farmers, and her company is no exception.
“When you are trying to buy beans you don’t personally deal with, you have to partner with a Barry Callebaut type of company that is conscientious about the best farming practices,” she said.
ConfectioneryNews previously reported 36% of Barry Callebaut’s cocoa beans are sustainable in 2016/17, up from 23% the previous period.
The chocolate supplier aims to achieve 100% sustainable cocoa by 2025 through its Forever Chocolate program.
Making bean-to-bar chocolate
Even though major suppliers and chocolate companies have set their sustainability targets, Thompson said it will probably take a longer time to achieve them unless small companies decide to be proactive in tackling issues such as child labor.
“We certainly can move the needle by coming together,” said Thompson, and one of the ways to do it is to make more bean-to-bar chocolate.
She said Seattle Chocolate has just made its first line of bean-to-bar products earlier this year under its Jcoco brand.
“I like the idea of being able to go to an origin and know how the farmers are living and seeing firsthand that they are building additions to their houses, replacing coffee crops with cacao because it’s so much more lucrative for them,” said Thompson.
She added Seattle Chocolate sources cocoa beans directly from Nicaragua.
“Those beans are exported to Portland, Oregon, where we partner with a small bean-to-bar manufacturer, and then we’ll give them directions such as whether adding a fruit-forward note or giving it a little acidic flavor,” said Thompson.
Seattle Chocolate’s bean-to-bar line currently comes in two varieties: 72% and 80% dark chocolate made from a blend of different Nicaraguan cocoa varietals. They are available in high-end grocery, drug, boutique and specialty stores, including Whole Foods, across the US.
Becoming a trend setter
According to Thompson, Seattle Chocolate has been making twisted truffles since it started 27 years ago. It has evolved to become an iconic confectionery brand in the Pacific Northwestern region.
However, she said the company’s bigger ambition is to become a “trend setter” in the US market, and producing bean-to-bar chocolate is just a beginning – the company also finished rebranding by adopting a more contemporary packaging.
“We have always been known for our nice packaging. Our brand before had tons of colors and graphics for 10 years. But we decided to work with artists and designers to give our chocolate a more modern, Seattle-themed look – green, outdoorsy and organic,” said Thompson.
She added rebranding for a chocolate company could be risky as new packaging may drive some of its previous consumers away, and it usually costs tens of thousands of dollars.
However, “the initial investment is important because packaging is what consumers are looking for on shelves when they are shopping,” Thompson believes. “But [the cost of rebranding] is not something we will pass on to our consumers.”
Seattle Chocolate expects a 30% sales increase by the end of 2018, said Thompson.