SXSW Panel Recap: Changing the Chocolate Industry

It's important that we consciously consume chocolate

It's pretty depressing when someone hands you a delectable bar of Belgian chocolate and then informs you that moment of savory goodness may actually be contributing to child slavery.

Photo by Jessi Devenyns

An estimated 60% of all cocoa in the world is produced in the Ivory Coast and Ghana on 2.5 million small farms. There are 2.3 million children who work on these farms, and “90% work in illegal circumstances,” said Ynzo Van Zanten, the “Choco Evangelist” of Tony’s Chocolonely. As for the rest of the farmers who work legally, they earn around 50 cents a day. For a $5 bar of chocolate, that means “no more than 12 cents ends up in the hands of the farmers who grow cocoa,” explained Van Zanten.

Ynzo Van Zanten of Tony’s Chocolonely (Photo by Jessi Devenyns)

This tragic reality of the chocolate industry was brought to the attention of Dutch media by journalist Teun van de Keuken, but when company executives refused to talk and there was no legal recourse to prosecute them – fair trade cocoa is a bit like green energy, although companies purchase it from a green supplier, they’re never actually sure if the supply itself is environmentally conscious – van de Keuken founded his own chocolate company with the aim of ending slavery.

“We’re a mosquito in the room of the chocolate industry,” explained van Zanten. One of the ways that this independent chocolate company, which is actually the market leader in the Netherlands, is disrupting the industry is by paying a premium. In addition to the 20% markup companies pay for fair trade beans, farmers who supply Tony’s are given an additional 30% to 40% on top of that. Surprisingly, this 50% (or more) markup in price for Tony’s is not reflected in the pricing of their bars which are $5.50 and weigh about as much as a brick (OK, maybe more like 6 ounces) in your hand. Oh yeah, and because the chocolate is made in Belgium, you know it’s delicious.

Changing the Chocolate Industry

Tuesday, March 12, JW Marriott Salon C

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