by Hunter Pavlik (MBA ’13)
Note: Each of the participants in the Spring 2012 SVC Smith Experience was asked to blog about a session that piqued their interest at this year’s Social Enterprise Symposium.
Before Thursday night, my knowledge of the global cocoa industry was limited to the fact that the crop is grown in the tropics and in some of the poorest countries in the world. When I walked out of the Sustainable Chocolate Sourcing discussion I had gained a greater sense of the work that is being done at the local level by tens of thousand of farmers and what two exceptional start ups are doing to improve the lives of the farmers they work with.
The background of the cocoa industry was a great introduction by Robert Peck of the World Cocoa Foundation. However, it was the information that followed, mainly the personal stories shared by Tim McCollum of Madecasse Chocolate and Amanda White of Divine Chocolate that caught my attention and changed my view on the chocolate industry. I grew up eating Hershey’s and Mars’ products but had little exposure to small-market chocolate bars before the panel. Thanks to the stories of the Tim and Amanda my views and my likely future purchasing decisions have been changed.
Tim’s story of starting Madecasse from scratch in an effort to make a finished chocolate product in Madagascar for the first time was extremely inspiring. His “Bean to Bar”, all-under-the-same-roof concept was both inspiring and shocking. I always viewed products with the Fair Trade logo as ones that were doing the most impact for the local farmers, however Tim changed my mind. When he described how making chocolate in Madagascar creates seven times more impact than Fair Trade cocoa alone I was truly blown away.
He also gave great insight into his beliefs as a co-owner of the company. He said that the one thing that he needs to have in order to succeed is patience, which is often the exact opposite of what we have learned in school about emerging markets. At Smith we have been told that emerging markets move in dog years and that if you don’t act immediately you could be quickly lost as the markets grow at flourishing rates, but Africa is a different story, especially Madagascar. The lack of basic essentials such as roads, electricity, facilities, equipment, and institutional knowledge has forced him to have more patience than ever with the growth of his company. He said he likely has the only cocoa roaster in Madagascar if not all of Africa, which was astonishing. In addition, his employees wrap each chocolate bar by hand because they lack the necessary equipment. This was something I greatly appreciated as I opened the small bar of Madecasse chocolate that I was given at the panel. These simple factors that every American business owner would take for granted are different in certain markets like Madagascar and were eye opening to me.
Amanda followed by offering a perspective of a Brand Manager that I had never heard. In my short time at Smith I’ve talked to many Brand Managers from companies who answer to Vice Presidents of Marketing and top suits on the day-to-day issues. She told us about how she also worked with other Brand Mangers in her company, but that ultimately she answered to the Co-op of Ghana cocoa farmers who owned 45 percent of Divine. These thousands of farmers were her ultimate bosses and are the main reason the company is around. The story of the Ghana Co-op and how Divine’s profits are directly going back to educating the children of these families, digging new wells for drinking water, and building schools and hospitals is something that will stay with me for a long time.
The panel gave me great insight into the chocolate industry and how a few small companies are looking to return a larger portion of the revenue to the farmers who need it most. I left STAMP knowing that I wanted to pay more attention to these small chocolate companies when I was walking down the aisle of the grocery store. And the next day I was pleased to learn that the company I am working with for my social venture consulting project, the Takoma Park Silver Spring Co-Op, carries several varieties of Divine Chocolate’s products, which I will be buying throughout the semester.
I wanted to attend the chocolate panel for the same reason that I wanted to work with the TPSS Co-op, I am interested in learning more about healthy, sustainable food companies that are making a difference around the world. Thanks to both I feel like I’m getting great insights that will help me during my summer internship and my future career after I leave Smith.