Transparency highlighted as vital to artisan chocolate sector in key industry study

Transparency has been identified as a core defining feature of the artisan chocolate market in a fresh Journal of Agriculture and Food research study, which found a lack of common standards leading to varying interpretations, writes Neill Barston.

The new study found that the apparent absence of specific universal benchmarks has been a factor in determining precise levels of progress.

As the research, led by a team including Sidney Boegman and Sophia Carodenuto, found that transparency within the artisan, or bean-to-bar industry was motivated by a shared desire to improve environmental and social outcomes.

The issue of due diligence and sustainable sourcing has been a key area of coverage within the pages of Confectionery Production in recent years, reflecting the strong emphasis that the wider sector has placed on delivering upon stated goals of supporting major communities within the cocoa supply chain.

According to the authors of the study, they worked closely with the Chocolate Alliance platform, engaging dozens of participants within the sector. Its core findings included the assertion that ethical cocoa sourcing was a major motivator for transparency, as well as being instrumental in product quality and meeting supply chain objectives.

The research found that many in the artisan chocolate sector had reacted to a greater level of consumer awareness in using cacao sourcing origin as an effective marketing tool in seeking to find a point of difference between the segment and more commodity areas of the industry.

As the research which focused on the US, South America and European market, noted, consumers were willing to pay more for craft products, but correspondingly, they expected ranges to be high quality, which in turn was anticipated to mean that farmers would be paid at a higher price than standard cocoa ranges.

The study found that the artisan sector accounts for only 4% of the total market, yet that this had in fact doubled within the past five years.

Significantly, its findings noted that 55% of survey respondents did not use any means of certification such as organic, Fairtrade or Rainforest Alliance in their communications with consumers – with 72% actively opting out of any certification programme. Its research found that such schemes were considered by those in the study to be comparatively costly an did not necessarily add to the value of products.

Moreover, the study stated that while respondents felt that while transparency was not a panacea, it does have the potential to make chocolate production more ethical by increasing accountability throughout the entire supply chain.

In addition, traceable supply chain practices were mentioned specifically as a means of improving conditions for farmers: “I would hope that traceability would make the entire import-export system more accountable”  Ultimately, participants asserted that more transparency in the craft chocolate industry has the potential to create sustainable, long-term business relationships where cacao farmers “have enough money to survive, and hopefully thrive.”

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