I've eaten a lot of fabulous fair trade chocolate, and this is undoubtedly the yummiest I've ever had!
Valentine’s Day is approaching, and a lot of chocolate will be bought and consumed over the next couple of weeks. The chocolate industry, however, is a messy one, as TreeHugger has reported in the past. Many cocoa producers live in dire poverty, unable to maintain a basic standard of living. Some cocoa farms in eastern Africa continue to employ child slaves in order to produce the chocolate sold at dirt-cheap prices to Western markets.
The market is also predicted to hit ‘peak chocolate’ within the next five years, as cocoa production is dramatically reduced thanks to “land degradation, lack of investment by smallholder farmers, and the declining availability of suitable land due to climate change” (The Guardian). An alternative cocoa production model is desperately needed, but ‘Big Chocolate’ – i.e. Nestlé, Mars, Hershey, Barry Callebaut, etc. – is stuck on incremental changes, rather than innovative business solutions.
There is some good news. In the midst of this negativity, small chocolate companies with seriously alternative business models have an opportunity to shine. Readers should know about one company in particular that has impressed me greatly with its approach to sustainability.
Alter Eco is a San Francisco-based company that sells chocolate, rice, quinoa, and sugar (and I can attest to the fact that its dark chocolate bars and truffles are divinely delicious). Everything that Alter Eco sells is fair trade, organic, GMO-free, and carbon-neutral. Alter Eco prioritizes supporting small-scale farmers, each of whom works approximately 2 acres of land, resulting in higher quality ingredients.
“No food system can be sustainable if it requires more resources than it yields.” – Alter Eco
Why fair trade? Over the past 30 years, shelf prices for many foods have increased while producers continue to sell for very little, sometimes less than the actual cost of production. The contracts that Alter Eco has with its suppliers are 10 to 30 percent higher than local market price. The fair trade method includes an annual payment for community financial support, which is used in whatever way the community deems necessary. Fair trade certification fits well with Alter Eco’s aim to “alleviate poverty through business.”
The company offsets its total carbon emissions each year by planting trees – 2 million so far – in the Amazon region of Peru, with the ultimate goal of becoming carbon negative. What’s interesting is that Alter Eco actually strives for “carbon insetting” through a program called Pur Project, also established by Alter Eco’s founder:
“Contrary to offsetting, which consists in handling carbon compensation in other places by uncorrelated people and means, the insetting includes the handling of carbon compensation into the commercial dynamics of the company.”
What really impressed me is Alter Eco’s work in the area of compostable packaging, something that’s largely overlooked in the food industry. The truffle wrappers are made of FSC-certified eucalyptus and birch fibers, layered with extremely thin aluminum and printed with natural inks. The result is a wrapper that will degrade in a home composter, unlike many other so-called compostable wrappers that only degrade in an industrial compost system.
So, if you’re looking for the perfect chocolate to buy for Valentine’s Day (and every other holiday), do check out Alter Eco’s online store for some delicious treats that say “I love you” not only to your partner, but also to the planet. This is the sort of ethical company that truly merits our consumer support.