Mary Ellen Kuhn

The Greening of Chocolate
I confess that I’m not a die-hard “green consumer.” Oh, I do the basics, like dumping plastics and paper into their respective recycling bins and dragging them to the curb on Sunday nights. And I buy organic produce on a semi-regular basis. But I’ve never taken it much farther than that. And until researching a story for this issue on “green/socially responsible” chocolate, I always felt a bit fuzzy on the precise definitions of terms such as “sustainability” and “Fair Trade Certified.”  
Now, however, I think I’ve found a place where environmental responsibility and personal fulfillment can happily co-exit — in the realm of sustainably grown, natural or organic chocolate, which also frequently wears a nice shiny halo of social responsibility.
Dozens of chocolate companies are participating in programs or have launched their own initiatives to benefit those at the start of the supply chain, i.e. the cocoa growers, many of whom live in poverty. Progressive industry players also are working to encourage environmentally friendly agricultural practices, which have the added benefit of improving cocoa bean quality. Meanwhile, many of these chocolate makers with a mission, as I like to describe them, are producing some pretty great chocolate. These are products that you can really feel good about consuming — just in case there weren’t already  enough reasons to feel that way about chocolate.
Getting greener
My sense is that the timing is right for such products. Branding expert Russ Meyer of Landor Associates points to an “almost a perfect storm of information that has required consumers to rethink their positions — Hurricane Katrina, extreme weather, an ‘Inconvenient Truth’ (the documentary on environmental issues).” Landor was one of the sponsors of the 2007 ImagePower Green Brands survey, and some of the findings surprised Meyer. In the study, a number of consumers volunteered that they’d be willing to pay more for green products, provided they deliver superior quality and value. “We weren’t expecting it, didn’t even ask that,” Meyer observes.
I think there’s a real opportunity here for both manufacturers and retailers. Consumers have a vast array of chocolate choices. Introducing products that align with a population segment’s personal values can help both a brand and the retailer that sells it forge a stronger connection with those consumers.
The caveat here is that authenticity is a must. You can’t fake being socially responsible or environmentally friendly. And the “green” or “ethical” positioning must fit with the rest of your brand’s imagery. Just slapping a label or tagline on an existing brand won’t work.
It’s gratifying to see how much chocolate makers already have done on this front, rolling out organic brands, developing programs to improve the lives of cocoa growers and introducing more Fair Trade Certified brands. The challenge now will be to maintain and build upon these commitments to social and environmental causes, while finding ways to get the message about them out to consumers in ways that truly resonate with them.