Confectionery News: How Uncommon Cacao is disrupting the global cocoa market - listen

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“Emily Stone, co-founder and CEO of Uncommon Cacao, joins us in the CN podcast studio to discuss the organization’s recently released Transparency Report and to explain how it is disrupting the cocoa supply chain in the wake of ongoing industry challenges around sustainability issues, farmer poverty and low prices.”

Give this podcast a listen using the link below:

Celebrating the 2019 International Chocolate Awards; Europe, Middle East, Africa

The 2019 European, Middle Eastern, and African International Chocolate Awards are in! Congratulations to our inspiring chocolate making partners for having their hard work celebrated!

Standout Chocolate Lachuá won the bronze ICA award

Fjaak Chocolate Lachuá won the silver ICA award

Hasnaa Chocolats Arhuacos won silver 

Utopick Chocolates won Gold and Silver for Sierra Nevada & Tumaco

Hover Chocolates won silver for Lachuá

Kakau Worship won bronze for Chivite

Michel Cluizel won bronze for Chimelb

Cococaravan won gold for Arhuacos

The 2018 Transparency Report is in!

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Every year since 2012, Uncommon Cacao has published a Transparency Report showing pricing data for our supply chain and sharing stories and information about the incredible producers from whom we source our beans. We were the first cacao export company to publish a report of this kind, and to date we are still the only cacao broker to publish farmgate-to-factory pricing. So why do we do it?

Daniel Coc - Field Officer at Maya Mountain

Daniel Coc - Field Officer at Maya Mountain

Cacao is a complex supply chain that has been relatively “out of sight, out of mind” for even the most passionate chocolate consumers. The historical colonization and over-commoditization of cacao, and current supply/demand imbalances of the product, have caused persistent low prices for cacao producers globally despite increases in demand for premium chocolate.

The growth of craft and premium chocolate, and of specialty cacao as the raw material for this market segment, opens up new opportunities to reimagine how the cacao supply chain can work and paves the way for radically transparent suppliers like Uncommon. Consumer demand for beyond-the-label data on ethical sourcing and supply chain transparency has never been stronger, and we see all of the chocolate industry increasingly trending towards transparency.

By publishing comprehensive and detailed information about where our cacao comes from, who produces it, how much is paid at all levels of the supply chain, as well as social and environmental impact data related to these purchases, we are able to open up an industry-wide conversation about realities for all actors producing and selling specialty cacao. 

We use the term “Transparent Trade” to define this practice of publishing verifiable pricing data for all transactions across the supply chain, including information about who produced the cacao and where. Through our transparency reporting we seek to:

  • Create accountability for all stakeholders along the supply chain around pricing and margins. 

  • Shift the power dynamic of a traditional supply chain hierarchy of farmers as price takers so they are better equipped to negotiate their own pricing. 

  • Build a foundation for the de-commoditization and de-colonization of cacao, establishing new pricing benchmarks for specialty cacao and trade relationships that look more like long-term partnerships than speculative or extractive transactions. 

  • Enable consumers and chocolate makers alike to see real data and connect the dots between farmers, intermediaries, manufacturers, and consumers, building an honest and sustainable chocolate future together. 

Blanca Vivera, a member of the Cortepaz Tumaco association and second generation farmer

Blanca Vivera, a member of the Cortepaz Tumaco association and second generation farmer

Pulling together a Transparency Report takes significant time -- this year, a full six months after the end of the reporting period (2018). Why? We collect pricing and cacao production evidence from all of our partners, analyze purchase data and contracts, and connect this hard data with real stories from the producers themselves, before turning it into a beautiful report (that we really hope people will read!). This effort requires significant investment of our company resources, both financial and human capital, to collect and verify all data.

Some challenges we faced this year in collecting data from suppliers include: 

  • Standardizing metrics across countries and types of supply chains. Each supplier has a different “wet to dry” cacao ratio, with payments either for wet or dry cacao at the farmgate. Each supplier purchases cacao based on different volume/price metrics: pounds, quintales, kilograms, and even some in a bowl with a specific weight. We have attempted to explain some of the conversions at the end of this year’s report.

  • Defining parameters for reporting on the number of farmers and number of female farmers. In the case of associations, it’s easier to report on the number of registered farmers. In the case of less formal groups, where individual smallholders sell directly to a company (in the case of Oko Caribe, for example), we report on the number of farmers that sold to that company that year.

  • Determining whether our internal verifications through requesting signed farmer receipts from our supply partners is a sufficient “audit” for farmgate price information.

  • Understanding when and why there have been significant changes in numbers - like farmer income - and contextualizing those changes for our readers, without having the opportunity to write essays or have in-depth conversations.

Some of the most interesting things we learned through the process of creating this year’s report:

  • 35% of the total registered farmers in the Uncommon Cacao supply chain are women. Efforts to formalize the participation of women in the supply chain are long overdue as experience and data show that women are key actors in the harvesting and production of cacao.

  • Certified organic hectares across our supply chain have grown by 73% over the last two years. We’ve seen significant growth in market demand for certified organic cacao and are happy to support farmers in increasing certified area.

  • Our average farmgate price (the price farmers actually earn at the farmgate when they sell their cacao) of $2,570/MT is higher than the new Fairtrade floor price announced this year and effective in October of $2,400/MT. The Fairtrade floor price represents the minimum that an exporter would be paid upon shipping Fairtrade certified cacao, while our farmgate price is paid directly to farmers when they deliver cacao at the first stage of the supply chain, representing a significantly higher price than what farmers selling into a Fairtrade certified exporter receiving the floor price would earn.

Our hope for this Transparency Report is that it will be read, studied, and discussed by many in the industry. We seek to inspire and support other cacao traders and intermediaries to invest in undertaking this work across their own supply chain. We hope consumers find the report interesting and informative, and that as a result of reading it they choose to buy chocolate from one or many of the 200+ amazing partners who source their cacao from us. These companies can all be found on our website under Partners.

We welcome all dialogue and inquiries about our Transparency Report from cacao producers, chocolate makers, chocolate lovers, sustainability professionals, and anyone else interested. You can find us on Facebook, Instagram, and can always drop us a line at to start the conversation.

Celebrating the 2019 International Chocolate Awards

Congratulations to all of our chocolate making partners on their big wins! It's always a happy day for us when we get to celebrate the hard work of our chocolate makers, farmers and export partners. With 35 wins and counting, we're pumped to keep working with you to provide beans that makers can count on for their amazing chocolate.

Gold: Castronovo Chocolate  (United States) – Tumaco, Colombia Dark Milk 60%, Silver – Tumaco, Colombia Dark Milk 60%, Bronze – Sierra Nevada, Colombia Dark Milk 63%

Bronze: French Broad Chocolates  (United States) – Guatemala 73% Dark Chocolate

Silver: Dandelion Chocolate  (United States) – Tumaco, Colombia-2017 Harvest, 70%

Silver: East Van Roasters  (Canada) – Lachuá, Guatemala 70%

Silver: Eldora Chocolate  (United States) – Guatemala Polochic 70%

Silver: Fresco  (United States) – Polochic Guatemala 70% Medium Roast, Bronze -- Dominican Republic 72% Medium Roast

Silver: Palette de Bine  (Canada) – Haïti Pisa 70%

Bronze: Avanaa Chocolat  (Canada) – Tumaco 70%

Bronze: Chokola bean to bar  (United States) – 70 Belize, Maya Mountain, Lachuá, Guatemala,  and Tumaco. Go Javier!

Bronze: Goodnow Farms Chocolate  (United States) – Asochivite, 77%

Bronze: Hazel Hill Chocolate  (United States) – Mayan Mountain 75% – Belize, Öko-Caribe 70% – Dominican Republic

Bronze: Hummingbird Chocolate Maker  (Canada) – Tumaco 70%

Bronze: Jacek Chocolate Couture  (Canada) – Colombia 70%

Bronze: Kin+Pod  (Canada) – 70% Tumaco Colombia

Bronze: Lucy Meifield Chocolate  (United States) – Guatemala 70%

Bronze: Monarch Chocolates  (Canada) – Jaguar 70% 

Bronze: Stone Grindz Chocolate  (United States) – Wild Bolivia 70%

Bronze: Sirene  (Canada) – Lachuá Dark Milk

Silver: Areté  (United States) – Colombia Tumaco 56% Dark Milk Chocolate

Silver: Videri Chocolate Factory  (United States) – 55% Dark Milk Chocolate

Bronze: Hummingbird Chocolate Maker  (Canada) – Tumaco Dark Milk

Silver: Zak’s Chocolate  (United States) – Belize Maya Mtn Sonoran Desert White

Silver: Fruition Chocolate Works  (United States) – Hudson Bourbon Dark Milk 61% (**), Spring Salted Dark Milk 56% (**), Bronze -- Brown Butter Milk Chocolate 43%, Pecans w/ Maple Cinnamon Milk Chocolate (**), Dominican Hispaniola 68%

Silver: Sirene  (Canada) – Ch’abil (**)

Silver: Chocotenango  (United States) – Cardamom (**), Loco for coco (**), Rosemary and Fig (**), Bronze -- 54% milk chocolate with Raspberry (**)

Find the full 2019 list here:

Transparency In the News

Cocoa industry stakeholders accept price dictated by Ghana, Ivory Coast

Interesting Cocoa news from Ghana. Repost. “Ghana and Ivory Coast on Wednesday announced that they had won concessions from stakeholders in the cocoa industry, including acceptance of a $2,600 floor price for a tonne of cocoa.

The two nations had threatened to stop selling their production to buyers unwilling to meet a minimum price.

Following a two-day meeting called by the two top cocoa producers who together account for over 60% of the world’s production, Joseph Boahen Aidoo, chief executive of the Ghana Cocoa Board, told a news conference that their demands had been accepted in principle by the participants.”

Read the full article here:

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Cahabón Origin Report

Cahabón, Guatemala

By Emily Stone

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The steep ascent from the Rio Cahabón to the hilltop village of Tzalamtun is one of my favorite wild terrain drives of all time.

Three hours southeast of Coban on jungle backroads, a dusty whitewashed bridge cuts dramatically across the glistening turquoise Cahabón river. Abruptly switching back to crumbling layers of earth, the road carves a verdant tunnel through cacao farms and cardamom plots, emerging quickly into open lands where traditional corn (milpa) production dominates and the rock-strewn path narrows into a single-lane path cut into a steep, crumbling mountainside. The landscape is gloriously vast, scattered with epic karstic mountains shooting into the sky out of the lush, jungled valley below.

Soon the road flattens out to traverse a mountain range, weaving through villages studded across a mystical vista of knobby hills. Past countless cacao plots with towering madre cacao canopy, droves of spotted piglets, outstretched tarps drying chiles and allspice, and the wafting scents of wood fires and fresh corn tortillas, lies the community of Tzalamtun. Upon arriving at the village, you might feel victorious, accomplished, like perhaps you are the first foreigner ever to have braved that perilous road and arrived at this pastoral, remote Q’eqchi’ Maya village. But you would be wrong.

Tzalamtun has been working with the American craft chocolate market longer than, perhaps, any other origin in Central America. First “discovered” by archaeologist Rick Bronson as he consulted for John Scharffenberger’s burgeoning chocolate business, the village of Tzalamtun was one of the first in the modern Maya culture to produce specialty cacao for export using centralized fermentation and drying processes.

What drew Rick and John to this group of farmers, beyond the rich Maya history of the region, was the incredibly large and uniform size of the beans they produced and the rich chocolatey, nutty flavor of their cacao with hints of raspberry and black cherry when well fermented. After the first visit, Scharffenberger invested in a rustic fermentation facility and cement patios for the association to start developing their craft. The farmers were organized under the association ADIOESMAC, “Association ‘Ox Eek’ for Development of the Maya of Santa Maria Cahabón,” and in 2007 they produced their first container’s worth of specialty cacao for export.

Fast forward seven years...

In February 2013, I came to explore Guatemalan cacao farms for the first time after four years of building the then-perpetually-sold-out Maya Mountain Cacao in Belize. I started at Rick’s farm, now known as Izabal Agroforest and run by his son Juan. Rick explained to me his history working in Alta Verapaz and Tzalamtun to source cacao for Scharffenberger. I decided to go see Tzalamtun for myself.

I made my way up that notoriously rough road for the first time in April 2013 on a public mini-bus leaving from the rural outpost city of Cahabon. As a solo female gringa (white) traveler, I was of great curiosity to everyone aboard the bus. It eventually came out that I was on the hunt for excellent cacao. The mood in the bus began to shift towards excitement and pride. Farmers pointed out their plots as we passed by, and the bus even stopped a couple of times so we could all walk off the bus and admire the beauty of their wildly productive trees bursting with what seemed like precisely the same crimson pods.

I ended up spending the night in a hammock in a farmer’s home in Pinares, the village right next to Tzalamtun, where we conducted cut tests by candlelight and I learned more of the history of the region. What caused these huge beans? Where did they come from? Why did all the trees look so much alike?

As it turns out, the President of Guatemala in the early 1980’s, Fernando Romeo Lucas, was from the region of Cahabón and held the region very dear to his heart. Seeing promising economic opportunity in cacao for the remote villages in the region, Lucas commanded a large-scale government project to bring hundreds of thousands of sticks of fresh budwood from “the best trees” in famous Finca Brillantes on the south coast of Guatemala to Cahabón by helicopter and truck. These trees he selected ended up being primarily UF-665 and UF-667. Grafted seedlings were distributed from 1982-1985 to over 5,000 families. Thirty years later, today these grafted trees are thriving and Cahabón produces over 25% of Guatemala’s total cacao production.

And yet all of this beautiful cacao was being sold, unfermented and dried on roadside tarps, to intermediaries called “coyotes.” These guys drove around the back roads in pick-up trucks with questionable scales and tall stacks of cash, buying whatever farmers had to offer -- corn, beans, cacao, coffee, cardamom, allspice, anything. No quality control. No training. No transparency. And low prices without any incentive to expand or improve cacao farming or agroforestry.

As Cacao Verapaz started taking form later in 2013, I made many trips back to Tzalamtun.

In May of 2013, Alberto Tec Sotz, President of ADIOESMAC, carefully weighed out my first sample of their first centrally-fermented harvest of the decade with a 1-lb rock. Cutting the beans, I found 80% well-fermented, deeply brown and rutted cacao. Later that week I shipped up the rest of the sample to Taza Chocolate for evaluation. It tasted good -- not perfect, but what else could you expect from  the first centralized fermentation in more than five years. Nobody had made their way to Tzalamtun since Scharffenberger’s botched import, and the producers were hungry to put their special facility back to use.

On May 1, 2014, several days after Cacao Verapaz’s official incorporation and days before we had our own bank account, I cashed out from ATMs across Coban and brought over 20,000 quetzales in cash with me back up the mountain roads. My friend Raul Quezada, a cacao agronomist who works at the smallholder farmer support NGO FundaSistemas, brought me up in his truck and helped me bring the cacao four hours back to Coban. Cacao Verapaz bought our first metric ton of cacao that day. It was a rush for all of us.

For the first several years, all of ADIOESMAC’s cacao was sold exclusively to Dandelion Chocolate. Greg D’alesandre has made the trek up the Tzalamtun road many times, and most recently his colleague Elmer, originally from Guatemala, reached the village to meet the producers.

The Minister of Agriculture caught wind of Tzalamtun’s rising success as a producer of specialty cacao, and one day in 2015 landed his helicopter on the village’s soccer field to join the farmers for a steaming guacal (dried, hollowed-out gourd for drinking) of rich cacao drink. He announced another large project, inspired by the work of these farmers and their progress in accessing international markets, to invest in technical assistance and cacao production across all of Guatemala.

Today, ADIOESMAC has a brand-new fermentation and drying facility on the same plot of land where the original Scharffenberger patios were built. The new drying decks, patio, and warehouse were built by the Guatemalan government; the new fermentary was funded by a generous donation from Parré Chocolat of New York.

The association started its own clonal garden in 2018 with support from Lutheran World Relief and FundaSistemas, and is monitoring demonstration plots across members’ farms to identify and implement best practices in agroforestry and efficient cacao production. The clonal garden, perched on a slope just beneath the fermentary, looks out over the Cahabón river valley below.

Amidst the patchwork of barren, deforested corn lands are dense, canopied shocks of green -- these are the cacao farms. There is no other origin I can think of where organic agroforestry is so important for the sustainability of a community than in the Cahabón region, where milpa-damaged terrain has eroded so deeply and the risk of mudslides terrify families during the long rainy seasons each year. Economic incentives for cacao agroforestry are one of the most important development programs imaginable for sustainable development of rural Guatemala.

The women of ADIOESMAC have received training in chocolate production (some of which was done by the incredible women of East Van Roasters), and today make chocolate blocks and other products that are sold in markets and villages around the region with great pride.

Cacao production in Tzalamtun is growing, and farmers from around the hills around the village have started to bring wet cacao to the fermentary with the desire to join ADIOESMAC and be a part of what these farmers have started.

It is through their entrepreneurial grit that the ADIOESMAC association continues producing great cacao. We are honored to work with them and bring their cacao to new chocolate makers all around the world as we prepare the 2019 harvest to ship to Amsterdam. Their beans have already made it to Dandelion Japan where the Cahabón chocolate was selected for special Valentine’s Day promotions with Japanese bakeries. The nutty, rich flavor of this chocolate with hints of orange marmalade make this bean versatile and crowd-pleasing. From rocky but promising beginnings for cacao in this region, to now producing and growing fast as one of the best quality cacaos in Guatemala, the Tzalamtun community has a lot to be proud of and hopeful for. Their spirit of generosity and passion for cacao shines through their work, and we could not be more honored to work with and grow alongside this resilient and dedicated community.

Repost: Washington Post.

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In cocoa, the farmer is considered guilty until proven innocent. The reality is that the commodity system doesn't allow for farmers to determine their own economic destiny. As this article shares, "what might be the most straightforward means of addressing child labor is scarcely mentioned: paying the farmers more for their cocoa. More money would give farmers enough to pay for their children’s school expenses; alleviating their poverty would make them less desperate." Recently, we decided to partner with an organization in Ghana that is aware of the challenges of child labor in the cocoa supply chain, and is working in the community to eradicate it. Their on-the-ground work, in combination with our higher prices, allows for farmers to have options beyond what the commodity system has handed them.
#repost from Washington Post