My response in a comment to an article posted on The Guardian about the Mast Bros: Mast Brothers: taste-testing $10 chocolate bars as controversy boils over.
What is a real shame about most of the media reporting that has occurred in reply to the series on DallasFood.org (including [the article on TheGuardian]) is that it has featured a sensationalized focus on price. And that is not what the series is about at all. It's about transparency and deliberate, systematic, misrepresentation, which can happen at any price level.
It is an indisputable fact that the overwhelming majority of chocolate—whether sold as solid bars, candy bars, or confections—is sold at a price that means that the cocoa farmer was not paid a living wage for their work.
One thing that most craft chocolate makers strive for is equitable relationships with the farmers they buy their cocoa from. And an aspect of that equitable relationship is that the farmer gets paid a fair price for their labor. A price that enables them to have pride in their work, feed and clothe and send their children to school, and all of the other things we strive for for ourselves, families, and communities.
We all have our taste preferences, but this is not about what's better - Cadbury, Ritter Sport, Lindt, et al. What it is about is knowing that, when you buy any chocolate where one factor in your purchase decision process is how cheap it is, is that one of the consequences of that decision is the perpetuation of a cycle of poverty of heart-breaking, gargantuan, proportions. The fact is, virtually all chocolate is too cheap, yet most people are unaware of the fact that their perceived "right" to enjoy inexpensive chocolate is a major driver behind children laboring in cocoa farms.
Having blind faith in certification schemes is not *the* answer. Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, Utz, et al, can only do so much; you as a consumer and large companies use those labels to avoid having to truly confront the reality of the situation.
Small chocolate makers who go to great lengths to source their beans provide one key to solving the problem. They confront the reality and work very hard to address it within the context of their own businesses.
Because craft chocolate makers cannot afford to buy hundreds of tonnes of beans at a time and don't have expensive automated plants, the price they *willingly* pay for high–quality cocoa beans and their costs of production are much, much higher than those of industrial producers who use their size and buying power to get the cocoa they buy at the lowest possible prices - not caring about the impact on the farmer.
In this context, what's important is not the price of the chocolate bar, it's the price the farmer receives for the cocoa beans - called the farm gate price. The higher the price paid to the farmer, the more expensive the chocolate is going to be. If you're buying a mass-market bar, most of the profits go to the manufacturers and retailers as well as to advertising and promoting the products - many of which actually have very little cocoa in them because cocoa is the most expensive ingredient!
And this is where the small chocolate maker strives to make a difference. Source the beans as closely as possible to the farmer, reduce the number of intermediaries who handle the beans - which increases their already high cost, and then work very hard to craft a product that people will like and buy more than once. Most of these small chocolate makers are self-funded startups who barely break even, let alone generate a profit.
And that's the source, I think, of much of the indignation surrounding The Mast Brothers. Their claim to being one of this amazing group of makers is on very shaky ground as the DallasFood.org series reveals. Most of the press surrounding the Brothers is about their beards, or about the paper used to wrap the bars, or about the design of their shops. And that's messed up. We were being lied to. It's not about the prices, it's about what appears to be systematic deception. That's why the chocolate community is up in arms. It is not a good thing for craft chocolate.
We can agree or not on whether we like a chocolate the Mast Brothers makes. That's partly a discussion of value: is the money I paid worth it, to me? In the case of the Mast Brothers - for me - the case is usually no: I did not get good value for money, but then I am focused on what's inside the wrapper, knowing that the wrapper is a not-insignificant reason for the price being what it is.
You may think I am an idiot to pay $10 for a bar of chocolate - but I have willingly paid much more. And I will continue to do so. I will do so because I want to see smiles on the faces of cocoa farming families when I travel at origin. I will do so because I believe in supporting honest, dedicated, craftspeople who work extremely hard to produce products they believe in and that they hope customers will buy and like.
What I try to avoid is purchasing chocolate where I know the farmer was not paid well or where the marketing is less than genuine.
And that's what this story is really about. It's not about a tenner.
clay - http://www.thechocolatelife.com/clay/
updated by @clay: 01/04/16 07:48:51PM