Exclusive: Puratos Cacao-Trace scheme sets ambitious targets supporting key cocoa communities

As the chocolate industry continues to play a stronger focus than ever surrounding delivery on sustainability goals amid upcoming EUDR regulations, Puratos recently released its annual Cacao-Trace report.

Confectionery Production exclusively quizzed Youri Dumont, director of Puratos’s chocolate business, which has produced brands including its premium Belcolade offering about the Belgian-headquartered company’s key environmental and social responsibility programme.

According to the business, Cacao Trace has quietly but firmly made transformational change throughout the cocoa chain for a decade. From the first ideas and dreams, through myriad successes and challenges and now with an eye on the next significant step, we lift the lid on this unique, inspirational and inclusive global scheme.

Its continued development comes amid a period of major challenges within the sector’s core producing nations of Ghana and neighbouring Ivory Coast, which remain responsible for two thirds of cocoa supplies for the confectionery sector.

However, with crop prices hovering at highly inflated nominal values  around the $10,000 mark on Futures commodities markets in New York and London, farmers in West Africa remain impacted by low wages and poor harvests over the past two years owing to adverse weather conditions. Other critical factors include crop disease reducing yields, comparatively high prices of fertiliser, illegal gold mining stripping land, and an ongoing battle to reduce the number of young people at risk to the most serious forms of child labour, which have yet to be reduced from a total of around 1.5 million, according to International Labour Organisation studies.

Speaking to Confectionery Production, Youri Dumont (pictured below) believed that despite the tests that remain for the industry, that Puratos’s core initiatives were making a difference to communities on the ground in West Africa.

Q: Can you tell us how the programme originally came about?

YD: The idea originally came up over ten years ago, when already the environmental, social and economic challenges within the cocoa supply chain were visible. And as a business that’s always had sustainability at its heart and believes that it benefits us all, it made sense for us to create a plan that would enable us to make a tangible difference.

Q: Have the programme’s goals changed over time?

YD: Fundamentally they haven’t changed, except for raising the bar as we make progress. We’re now aiming to reach 25,000 farmer families in 2025, and up to 50,000 farmers by 2030, helping all of them achieve a living income. We plan for all chocolate produced and sold by Belcolade, our flagship Real Belgian chocolate brand, to be 100% sustainable by the end of 2025.


Q: The underlying principle of “Great Taste, Doing Good” has been there from the start. Is this something that distinguishes Cacao-Trace from other sustainability programmes?

YD: Indeed, there are several sustainability programmes in the cocoa and chocolate industries, but Cacao-Trace is really about working hand-in-hand with selected and trained cocoa farmers and their communities to create additional value thanks to better quality cocoa, which will turn into great-tasting chocolate. Cacao-Trace farmers are committed to providing better quality wet beans. When our Cacao-Trace-owned post-harvest centres receive these and check their quality, the cocoa farmer is rewarded directly in the form of a “Quality Premium,” which is paid on top of the cocoa price.

By mastering the fermentation process in our post-harvest centres, we create great-tasting chocolate. This results in additional value distribution back to the farmers, directly from the customers who buy Cacao-Trace chocolate: this is the “Chocolate Bonus.” It corresponds to a 0.10€ bonus for every kg of chocolate sold. The Quality Premium and the Chocolate Bonus together account for two to five months of extra revenue on a yearly basis for Cacao-Trace cocoa farmers. In 2023, the Chocolate Bonus alone accounted for more than €2.4 million in total. 100% of this amount goes directly to the Cacao-Trace communities, either in cash or to support community projects.

Q: Vietnam was the first country in which the Cacao-Trace programme was launched: how did that go?


YD: It was very exciting but also a step into the unknown in 2015. The programme was adopted very quickly and enthusiastically – 80% of our Vietnamese farmers had joined it by the end of 2016. In that year we distributed a Chocolate Bonus exceeding €136,000, a figure that reached €2.4m across all eight countries of the programme by 2023. Since then, we’ve done more and more in Vietnam, with a focus on increasing our partnerships and innovating with new farming processes like closed loop models and regenerative agroforestry.

Q: Can you tell us about some of the highlights of the Cacao-Trace journey?

YD: Our 2017 launch in the Ivory Coast was definitely a highlight, as that country is obviously the world’s largest cocoa producer. We knew we could make a huge impact there and indeed it’s our biggest scheme today. 2018 was a fantastic year too – we launched in three countries in quick succession; Mexico, Papua New Guinea and Uganda. We’re very proud to have consistently increased our Chocolate Bonus every year and when it hit €1 million in 2021, that was another proud moment.

And then in 2023, the year we’re reporting on right now, the Chocolate Bonus hit €2.4m – the highest figure yet. As always, this will be distributed 100% to cocoa farmers either in cash or, more commonly, for community projects. Like last year, when we contributed to the construction and renovation of twelve primary school projects – the biggest number of any single year. Providing a better education for cocoa farmers’ children is one of our main focuses with Cacao-Trace, and we love seeing these investments pay off.

Q: But there must have been difficult times too?

YD: Yes of course, not everything always runs smoothly, especially when we have so many active projects at the same time. Onboarding such a large number of farmers, customers and partners is challenging for sure, especially when the programme is developing so fast. Continuously checking and improving our processes to maintain quality certainly keeps us on our toes! But overall, Cacao-Trace is an overwhelmingly positive experience for everyone involved.

Q: I understand you’re now focusing on launching in Costa Rica and Peru – the report shows these countries as “in transition” – what’s the process, and how long does it take?

YD: Each new programme is carefully selected to be part of Cacao-Trace and must be found to meet the requirements through internal inspection. “In transition” is the first year of action and is largely a year of inspection to ensure that country’s programme meets minimum compliance criteria, according to the high Cacao-Trace Standard. We conduct an internal inspection at the six month point, and then there’s a third party certification after a year. At that point, the entity concerned will either become Cacao-Trace certified, or its beans will be sold as conventional beans if our standards weren’t met. It’s quite a complex process, as you can imagine, but that’s the simple summary.

Q:  Next year is a critical one for Cacao-Trace, as it’s the deadline you’ve set yourselves for, in your words, “impacting” 25,000 farming families. Will you meet that target?

YD: We’re definitely on track! The coming report shows the figure exceeded 23,000 farmers in 2023, and with Costa Rica and Peru joining in the coming months, plus expansion in other countries we’re already in, the outlook is very good.

Q:  Then to double that number in the five years following – that seems an ambitious target, is that realistic?

YD: You’re absolutely right, it IS ambitious. We believe we have to set ambitious goals to get where we want to be. They also help to motivate and galvanize the team. We’ve got to make a meaningful impact on everyone involved in the cocoa chain and our Cacao-Trace farmers, partners and customers are essential to making that happen. The industry needs programmes like Cacao-Trace now more than ever, so we will continue to think big and relentlessly pursue our aims. Improving sustainability in the chocolate industry isn’t just our duty, it’s our passion – and something we’re very proud to do.

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