Exclusive: Tony’s Chocolonely returns to World Confectionery Conference

This year’s World Confectionery Conference will be heading back to the Belgian capital, which remains a key hub for the industry. Editor Neill Barston speaks to Joke Aerts, Tony’s Chocolonely, who is joining the event as a keynote speaker

lacing industry sustainability and innovation at its core, our fourth edition of the World Confectionery Conference is set to make a welcome return to Brussels this autumn. Held on 12 September in Belgium, it will once again aim to celebrate the brightest talents across the full value chain of our industry, from equipment and ingredients, through to finished products and covering key supply chains serving the sector.

This year’s event, which will be at the renowned Brussels Nhow hotel, comes as Confectionery Production marks its 90th anniversary publishing within the industry. So, what better way for industry professionals to gain key updates on chocolate, snacks and bakery issues than to join us in our Belgian edition of the event later this year. As we discovered previously, our host city of Brussels remains a major confectionery hub for its internationally acknowledged reputation for its high quality pralines and chocolates.

Equally important, its status as a global centre of policy, including for significant regulatory affairs for the confectionery industry, makes it a perfect setting for our conference. For our 2024 edition, we will once again be supported by major partners including Caobisco European chocolate, biscuit and confectionery association, which has been at the heart of supporting the region’s industry for the past 65 years.

Furthermore, they will be joined by leading confectionery group Ferrero, and insights company, FMCG Gurus, which will be among our keynote speakers for the one-day event. The conference will once again feature our World Confectionery Awards, which have continued to shine a light on a range of deserving businesses, from young aspiring outfits, through to established global players, who have engaged with our accolades that are judged with the assistance of our experienced editorial board.

Once again, we’ll be championing sustainability, as well as industry innovation across our entire sector that will offer a valuable platform for companies to showcase how they are continuing to thrive despite wider industry challenges.

In addition, our event will be rounded-off by a closing drinks reception, which will offer valuable additional networking opportunities, which has been highly appreciated by all those who have previously attended.

Keynote speakers

Among our returning keynotes will be Dutch confectionery impact brand, Tony’s Chocolonely, which has been at the forefront of the industry’s efforts to address the core matter of child labour within global confectionery supply chains.

As the company has acknowledged, this remains a major ongoing issue, with a total of more than 1.5 million young people affected by the being exposed to work within the sector from an early age, which has rightly remained at the forefront of the industry’s agenda over the past few years.

For our 2024 event, we will be joined by Joke Aerts, Tony’s Chocolonely open chain lead, who will offer some intriguing insights into working within one of the most talked about businesses in the sector, and how its mission remains as vital as ever. (Watch our exclusive video interview with Joke here).

As she explained to Confectionery Production, the issue of child labour ‘remains a massive issue’ in the cocoa trade that must be resolved, but as she notes, this can only be done collectively. With the EU set to bring in new regulations on due diligence within supply chains across Europe at the end of this year, the dial appears to be finally shifting on ramping up the scale of action.

Q: We’ve previously enjoyed having Tony’s speak at our event, so how are you feeling about joining this year’s show?
A: It’s good to be asked as a keynote speaker, and I’m looking forward to the event. One of the roles that we have in the chocolate world is not only to be an example of good sourcing, but also to inspire others to act and improve their supply chains. These conferences are a great way for us to interact with the rest of the industry, get inspired by what others are doing. We are all facing the same challenges, and cocoa has extremely common challenges in terms of poverty, child labour and deforestation. It’s something that can only be solved together, so it makes sense for us to come together and learn from each other.

Q: How did you get into sustainability as a subject area, and is it related to your family background?
A: I have been working in sustainable tropical commodity agriculture for more than 20 years. I was born in Belgium, immigrated to the USA when I was 12, and did my high school and college years there. Then I did International Studies and Sustainable Development at Johns Hopkins University. I also spent half a year abroad in Mali through the School for International Training which was very eye opening to me.

I then started a side job as a barista after college and learned about Fairtrade, so I started interning at Fairtrade. They referred me to the Rainforest Alliance where I worked for almost 15 years total. I worked for many years in East Africa and Asia, in tea, coffee, cocoa, palm oil, and bananas. I worked directly with farmers but also worked with companies
linking them to more sustainable sourcing.

Q: What do you enjoy most about your role?
A: What I really enjoy about my job now is that we try to influence the industry from the inside – this give you a whole different platform, almost a story to speak to about how companies can take responsibility for responsible sourcing, so I really enjoy that part of it. I could only work for a mission driven organisation, which Tony’s Chocolonely is at its core. There’s not a single sales representative who can’t tell you that we’re trying to change the norm in industry, and end exploitation in cocoa, not just Tony’s but other companies as well. I feel that companies can be a force for good, and I am really excited to be here at Tony’s, and I’ve been really inspired by it.”

Q: What has been the action that Tony’s has undertaken that has made the most difference to improving the lives of farming communities?
A: I joined at the start of Tony’s Open Chain, in 2019. Within months of me starting at Tony’s Open Chain, work was finalised with Fairtrade on aligning on a Living Income Reference Price for cocoa. I think that was a big game changer. In all my time in sustainable agriculture, paying a higher price to smallholders to enable a living income is really only something we started seeing get moving in around 2019, 2020. It is so vital that sustainable pricing is part of our global approach to sustainable supply chains and thriving rural landscapes

Q: In terms of scaling-up action to assist farmers, you presently work with around 25,000, how are you going to scale that up?
A: At Tony’s Open Chain we want to be big enough that our model cannot be dismissed as not scaleable, nor replicable, not a holistic solution to taking your responsibility in a cocoa supply chain. For us that means we are aiming at five per cent of the cocoa trading out of west Africa. We have a few years to go but every system we set up is with that goal in mind. And the way we will go about it is setting up robust, scaleable teams on the ground and in our operations, pro-actively inviting every cocoa-brand to join us in our mission and to join Tony’s Open Chain, and continuing to position Tony’s Open Chain as a proven model through our data-based storytelling on impact.

  • To see the full extended version of this feature, catch our latest edition of Confectionery Production magazine. To register for this year’s World Confectionery Conference, visit our dedicated website at confectioneryconference.com

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