Monday, February 11, 2008

Fair Trade Truffles

Chocolate isn't just an obsession for women, let me tell you. An open box of chocolate is in as much in danger around my husband as it is around me. Sometimes, more. And while fair trade chocolate has been on the back burner of the things I worry about, I am quite conscious of it after being reminded of the issue by Baby Toolkit and Cathy over at Chief Family Officer. Avoiding plastic, pesticides, chemicals, genetically modified food, partially hydrogenate fats, high fructose corn syrup, antibiotic laden meats, and so on...well, it's hard to be good on all counts. However, on a holiday known for its chocolate exchanges, what better time to be hyper-conscious of the source of our chocolate?

I was looking on Cook's Illustrated website, and they have a nice listing of
Mail-Order Truffles. In search of the best truffles, they ordered a bunch of chocolate from places all over the internet. They list pricing, packaging, and flavor ratings, alongside a note of which they recommend.

I was torn as I read the list. I can appreciate taste-tester's flavor analyses, but what about the origin of the chocolate? Is it fair trade? It's not the kind of issue Cook's Illustrated tackles, so I figured it was hit or miss. I took their list and figured I'd try and find out for myself. I know that some chocolate out there is fair trade, but they don't identify it as such in their marketing. I can't say why for sure, but I've heard that fair trade chocolate isn't always the tastiest by comparison, so perhaps some companies want to be identified as flavorful over and above anything else. Perhaps they can't prove the source of the chocolate, so they'd just as soon omit the fair trade aspect from their advertising. Just a shot in the dark.

One thing I've learned in my research is that fair trade is simply a name that is given to a problem. Much like with the term"organic," you can find alternative practices that produce the same result. Furthermore, because getting the label of "fair trade" costs money just like getting the "organic" label, it's not a title everyone wants to go to the expense of procuring. In other words, if you want your chocolate dollars to go to companies that support ethical labor practices and sustainable farming, you might not find out simply by asking "do you use certified fair trade chocolate?" In fact, if you have a favorite chocolate, I suggest you contact them to find out where they source their chocolate from. You might already by supporting your beliefs while consuming your healthy dark chocolate.

Go over and read Cook's Illustrated article for their reasoning in choosing their favorite truffles.  Then come back here and see what I've found out.

Highly Recommended, per Cook's Illustrated:
Fran's Chocolates - Here's what they have to say about why they do not currently use certified fair trade chocolate.
"The chocolate we purchase is of the highest quality. We look at taste and quality to determine what chocolate we will purchase. Farmers who grow high quality flavor beans are receiving a higher price then your average bulk cocoa beans. "Fair trade" sets the price above the bulk bean price but does not have any criteria for quality. Our biggest concern about certified "fair trade" chocolate is that it does not address the issue of quality."
Best Buy, per Cook's Illustrated:
Dan's Chocolates - They purchase their chocolate from the World Cocoa Foundation, which identifies itself as follows on their website:
"The World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) supports cocoa farmers and their families worldwide. WCF programs raise farmer incomes, encourage responsible, sustainable cocoa farming and strengthen communities."
Recommended, per Cook's Illustrated:
Vosges Haut-Chocolate - They do use fair trade chocolate. That said, they note that because they rely on their vendors to provide them with fair trade chocolate, they "trust" that said vendors are honestly representing the origin of the chocolate. Fair enough, I say.

Neuhaus - I didn't find anything to indicate they use fair trade chocolate. This website notes that Dagoba is fair trade certified, so I assume they would note that Neuhaus is, too, if they were.

Godiva Chocolatier - Godiva is owned by the Campbell Soup company. Co-op America says that as of July 2007, Godiva does not sell fair trade chocolate

Joseph Schmidt Confections - Owned by Hershey's, it doesn't seem to use fair trade chocolate, either. If they did, I suspect they would say so here.

Jacques Torres - Jacques Torres is fair trade per this fan of his work.

Recommended with Reservations, per Cook's Illustrated:
See's Candies - I've seen nothing to indicate that See's uses fair trade chocolate. In fact, I've seen various blog posts and old articles indicating that they do not use fair trade chocolate, but the most recent was dated 2003. I called, and the sales representative said that they did not use fair trade chocolate, though he seemed a bit confused by the question. My conclusion: they probably don't use fair trade chocolate. If they did, they'd probably have let someone in the media (or their sales department) know about it.

A few others I found:

Endangered Species Chocolates uses fair trade chocolate.

Scharffen Berger is owned by Hershey's. This website says "they are known to monitor their cacao producers for farming and labor practices, but none of their chocolates have as yet been certified as fair trade or organic." However, Hershey's has defeated a request for transparency on this issue.

Dagoba is owned by Hershey's and claim that they have "good labor practices and a safe work environment." However, as above, Hershey's has defeated a request for transparency on this issue.

Ghirardelli, now owned by Lindt-Sprungli (large multinational company), doesn't seem to use fair trade chocolate. However, I e-mailed them asking about it, and I'll update this post if and when they respond.

If you'd like to check out more chocolatiers that use certified fair trade products, check out Green LA Girl's post. And this site has a handy chart at the bottom of the page reflecting organic and/or fair trade chocolate, as of November 2005.

Keep in mind that you don't have to do a lot to make an impact. Not too long ago, organic food was nearly impossible to find. But the public's demand has changed that. If we ask the questions that get See's and Ghirardelli stumbling for answers, and spend a few extra dollars in seeking out fair trade chocolate, the market will begin to turn and make it more available. And wouldn't that be sweet?


MamaGeek @ Works For Us said...

Wow, you are the queen of taste. I shamelessly admit to liking high fructose corn syrup. Don't hate me. :)

MetaMommy said...

Hmm...OK, I won't hate you. But don't think I won't try to change your mind ;-)

Chief Family Officer said...

Thanks for the list! I have been looking for high quality truffles I can send to my chocoholic friend so this is very helpful. Let me just say that I'm not impressed by Vosges, though. And I'm going to have to do some research into Norman Love, since my friend adored their truffles.

MetaMommy said...

@ Cathy - Hope it helps. I figured if I'm going to go to the trouble of finding out this stuff for myself, might as well share ;-)

I'm curious to know why you weren't impressed by Vosges. Was it the flavors or othe chocolate? Or the whole deal?