Natural and clean label confectionery

Greenwashing in confectionery: EU expected to clamp down on blurring the lines between marketing and verifications

By Anthony Myers

- Last updated on GMT

Pic: GettyImages
Pic: GettyImages

Related tags clean label Chocolate Sustainability Cocoa Confectionery

One of the major challenges facing the premium chocolate industry is the practice of ‘greenwashing’ where consumers are deceived by meaningless icons and false claims on labels purporting that the brand is committed to a responsible and transparent supply chain.

Theo Chocolates is one of the main natural and organic chocolate brands in the US and was established in 2006. It sources its cocoa from sustainable farms and cooperatives and from the beginning it has invested in farmer partners, providing education, resources, and premium incentives based on quality.

Co-founder Debra Music spoke to ConfectioneryNews about greenwashing in a previous article. “There are companies using words like ‘natural’ which is meaningless, and unregulated terms like ‘beyond fair trade’ without certification, and there are brands that put their own creative icons on packaging and marketing materials to mimic legitimate third-party certifications​.”

Many companies view social purpose as an ‘add-on’ to meet consumer demand for greater authenticity in the brands they purchase. ConfectioneryNews has previously reported that the growth of Fairtrade awareness, for example, is being driven not only by traditional sustainability-minded consumers but also by a growing population of Millennials Gen-zs, and mainstream shoppers.

The dark arts of greenwashing

According to the Guardian, environmentalist Jay Westerveld first coined the term greenwashing in the 1980s, as a contemptuous retort to the hospitality industry’s push for clients to reuse their towels under the pretence of saving the environment. He says that greenwashing is where companies spend more money and time claiming to be ‘green’ through advertising and marketing rather than actually implementing business practices that minimize environmental impact.

The line between marketing and third-party verifications is blurred​,” said Music, who now works as an ethos-based brand-building expert. “It is difficult for consumers to decide if a product has meaningful added value​.”

Music says she believes that “For companies interested in combining business with purpose, having a business model that intrinsically supports the fundamental values the company espouses is the path to success​.”

We also spoke to Andrew Brooks, Head of Cocoa Sustainability, at ofi. “We know that consumers are more and more conscious of knowing where their products have come from and how they’ve been made, so we’ve been working to offer our customers greater levels of transparency​,” he said.

The data we collect through our traceability and deforestation monitoring systems is fed into our sustainability management system, AtSource. This insight allows our customers to track their ingredients, giving them confidence in the social, economic, and environmental impact of their cocoa, from the farmer group to the factory gate. They can then choose to include this information on their packaging or make it available in other ways, for example, through their own sustainability reporting​.”

Sharon Terenzi, a consultant and founder of The Chocolate Journalist blog, said: “Back in the 2000s, chocolate companies only cared for their products to look delicious and luxurious. Nobody would cancel them on social media for unethical and environmentally-destroying business practices.

“But now that consumers demand transparency, traceability, and sustainability, that’s what chocolate companies are giving us. Or at least, the feeling of it. Images of cocoa trees and pods evoke in us feelings of naturality, and purity, a product coming directly from Mother Nature. At the same time, images of smiley cocoa farmers make us feel like we are doing something good for other people. These images are a lie, or at best irrelevant.”

Fine cacao

The fine cacao and craft chocolate industry is an example where there seems to be a genuine effort to communicate as much transparency and traceability as possible.

The chocolate makers we work with are paying around two or three times the market rate for their beans, as opposed to the tiny premium offered by certification schemes (usually around 10% more than the market rate). They are working with farms where slavery is absolutely not an issue​,” claimed The Chocolate Bar, a New Zealand bean-to-bar brand that was founded in 2015 to import and sell high-quality and ethically produced chocolate into the country.

One of the key things that is different about the fine/craft system is that it values quality over quantity. The much higher rates paid to farmers are based on the quality and flavour profile of the beans - it’s about doing the right thing, but it’s also about creating mutually beneficial business relationships that are sustainable and built to last," ​it said.

“Likewise, that is why the chocolate we sell is more expensive than most supermarket brands - you’re paying for something that’s truly ethical, as well as something that is much higher quality and offers a completely different flavour experience​.”

However, even craft chocolate companies are struggling to do the right thing and, as this publication recently reported​, have called for more sustainability regulations to help guide them.

Transparency is a defining feature of the craft chocolate industry. But, with the need for benchmarks or regulations for this budding industry, entrepreneurs and stakeholders interpret and apply transparency differently, new research published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Research shows.

Even though the craft chocolate community has emerged as a champion for supply chain transparency within the chocolate industry, the need for regulation is slowing down progress toward true sustainability, research authors claim, which is why the industry will be looking towards Brussels, the home of the EU, for fresh legislation on the issue of greenwashing.

EU legislation

Earlier this year, the European Parliament and European Council reached a provisional agreement on new rules to ban misleading marketing on labels and provide clearer product information.

Before it is passed into law a provisional deal is expected to go to a final vote from both the European Parliament and Council next month. Member states will then have 24 months to incorporate the new rules into their law.

The agreement is likely to update the existing EU list of banned commercial practices and also add several new factors related to greenwashing and early obsolescence of goods that it considers to be problematic for consumers and the environment.

According to the agreement, the following will become illegal:

  • Generic environmental claims, eg ‘environmentally friendly’, ‘natural’, ‘biodegradable’, ‘climate-neutral’ or ‘eco’, without proof of recognised excellent environmental performance relevant to the claim
  • Claims based on emissions offsetting schemes that a product has a neutral, reduced, or positive impact on the environment
  • Sustainability labels not based on approved certification schemes or established by public authorities

MEP Biljana Borzan said: “We are clearing the chaos of environmental claims, which will now have to be substantiated, and claims based on emissions offsetting will be banned​.”

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