John Kehoe, TCHO's v.p. of development sourcing, greets "Fine Flavor Cocoa Grafter" Collins at the Cocoa Research Institution of Ghana. 

San Francisco-based TCHO, a high-end chocolate bar manufacturer that takes to heart its core values involving quality and traceability, has been in the forefront of linking the supply chain from the farmer’s field to the consumer. Much of this effort is made possible by computer-enabled technology and borrowing techniques from the software industry. Given its heritage — the company was created by the founders of Wired Magazine, —TCHO’s technology bent is understandable.

For traceability in the field, TCHO established a partnership in 2009 with Cropster (, a developer of a cloud-based monitoring systems for agri-business. Using Cropster’s C-sar system and USAID funding, together with Equal Exchange, TCHO is implementing a cooperative development grant that involves three components, explains John Kehoe, v.p. of development sourcing.

These three components are: model fermentaries (adequate infrastructures for sorting cocoa that guarantee quality); data sensors arrays (weather stations that monitor the weather and track fermentation temperature and drying conditions) and flavor labs, which enable cooperatives to evaluate their beans on the basis of flavor). The Cropster C-Sar database subsequently ties all this information together.

In other words, the cooperative can track a micro-lot of beans from an individual farmer, follow it through fermentation and drying and eventual processing into liquor, and then have it evaluated by tasting panels at the cooperative and by clients. TCHO can track the entire process remotely online.

“The cool thing isn’t that we at TCHO are directing this process; it’s that the cooperatives are managing this process at origin,” emphasizes Kehoe. The result is that the cacao cooperative can determine, within a week of harvesting, the quality of the beans and make adjustments when necessary. Under traditional methods, it might be months after the harvest that the beans arrive at the overseas chocolate factory for processing and analysis.

Through a new USIAD - World Cocoa Foundation grant, TCHO is now taking some of this groundbreaking work to Ghana. This kind of sophisticated crop sourcing has been noticed by others; Cropster was the winner of the 2012 Specialty Coffee Association of America’s Best New Product & People’s Choice Award in the equipment for origin category.