The front lobby of the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach may not be the best place to conduct an interview, with the comings and goings of jet-setters and hard bodies providing distractions. But it was quiet enough in the late morning during the NCA’s State of the Industry conference last week to do just that with Peter Boone, president and ceo of Barry Callebaut Americas.
The original objective was to get a progress report on Forever Chocolate, the company’s comprehensive effort to eliminate cocoa farmer poverty, eradicate child labor from its supply chain, become carbon and forest positive and use 100 percent sustainable ingredients by 2025.
And Boone proved to be the ideal person to discuss that as well as several other topics that crept up. As the company’s chief innovation officer who eventually became responsible for quality and sustainability prior to heading up the Americas in September 2017, Boone knew intimately what the company was doing to foster change in cocoa-producing origins.
“We were doing a lot of good things,” he says, “but they were lacking clear impact. I was a driver behind the Forever Chocolate movement. By setting ambitious goals to reach by 2025, we’re committed to deliver against those goals.”
In short, the company has committed to eradicating child labor from its supply chain, as well as lifting more than 500,000 cocoa farmers out of poverty. The plan also calls for the company to become carbon- and forest-positive while ensuring that all its products were made from 100 percent sustainable ingredients.
Last year, the company released its first report card on progress within the Forever Chocolate program, which was validated by a third party. The program is “on track” notes Boone, ticking off the following accomplishments: 
  • Working with nearly 160,000 farmers in sustainability programs 
  • More than 20,000 farmers trained on child labor awareness
  • 23 percent productivity improvement for Ivorian cocoa farmers adopting farm services
  • Signed Cocoa and Forest Initiative to stop cocoa-related deforestation in West Africa
  • 36% of all cocoa sourced sustainably
  • 30% of all non-cocoa ingredients sourced sustainably
What excites Boone about the initiative, aside from working on realizing critical benchmarks, is that it brings in new partners, which increases the excitement and energy of the Forever Chocolate program.
“We have to move away from individual actions and focus on uplifting communities,” he says. “It’s about implementing different kinds of intervention, using different pilots in different countries. We want to have that impact at the microlevel, at the community level.”
And customers and consumers are recognizing the bold commitment that the Forever Chocolate initiative stands for. 
“People want solutions,” he says. “There’s huge interest in knowing what we doing and how we are doing.” 
Boone cites Mark Edwards, coo of Edward Marc Brands, as an example of customers becoming involved beyond just certification, becoming active with the company’s Cocoa Horizons Foundation. And that leads to another query, the growth of the premium chocolate sector. Boone acknowledges the surge in consumer demand for high-end chocolates.
“It’s growing,” he asserts. “We also need it [premium chocolate sector] as an industry. As a company, we’re dependent on a growing category, and we want to ensure it keeps growing.”
One of the ways to foster that growth is through stories, Boone says. He cites the coffee and tea industries as having fostered positive conversation and excitement through premiumization, while simultaneously bringing relevance at the product level.
Boone points out that the term premium in chocolate seeks to deliver flavor and indulgence and that it can apply to origin, health, the combination of ingredients or story, or any combination of all those characteristics. 
“It’s important to engage consumers with premium stories,” noting there’s plenty to tell when talking about cocoa.
In fact, the development of Ruby, Barry Callebaut’s new chocolate derived from red Ruby cocoa beans, stemmed from an attempt to bring some positive news to the chocolate-consuming public.
“There was too much discussion regarding sugar in chocolate, the number of calories in chocolate,” he says. “We wanted to take part in a positive discussion about cocoa, about how it’s a natural product that has 20,000 components affecting flavor as well as many other attributes.” 
Since Ruby’s debut in Shanghai last September, the new chocolate has definitely initiated discussion as well as debate. Moreover, that’s the first question Boone gets asked when visiting with customers.
“We have to wait for the FDA to acknowledge that Ruby complies with the agency’s standard of identity for chocolate,” he says. “We’re hopeful that we’ll have it out here in the Americas before the end of this year.
“It really delivers a different experience than other chocolates, and it’s something Millennials want,” Boone emphasizes.
Upon coming on board as the new president and ceo of Barry Callebaut Americas, Boone was anxious to find out what chocolates fit consumer needs and moods.
“We had between 30 to 40 of the biggest brands as part of our test to determine what chocolates fit best when and where,” he explained. “For example, if you had a rough day at work, you would be looking for something to pick you up, to provide some energy.
“You certainly would consider something different if you wanted to share something with the kids,” he continues. “Interestingly, we didn’t find many chocolates that catered to having that individual indulgence, one that delivered the most extreme pleasure. Ruby, however, has a fruity tone and smoothness that delivers that indulgence, especially with Millennials. It had a very powerful impact.”
And as has been reported, chocolate’s characteristics aren’t relegated solely to pleasure points; it has better-for-you benefits. Barry Callebaut’s recent collaboration with FlavaNaturals provides consumers with yet another story. 
Following three years of collaboration with Barry Callebaut, FlavaNaturals introduced FlavaBars — a line of premium, dark chocolate bars that boast the benefits of five times the cocoa flavanol content of a typical dark chocolate bar.
Thanks to optimized cocoa sourcing and mild processing, the high-flavanol chocolate contains unmatched levels of naturally preserved cocoa flavanols, with each bar containing 500mg of cocoa flavanols per serving. 
Such offerings are all part of what Boone says is a willingness by consumers to try new things.
“They’re open to listening,” he says. “Consumers are changing, which creates a lot of space for manufacturers. Of course, it can also be a bit nerve-wracking for customers since there’s an accompanying lack of loyalty with this openness.”
As a result, it makes for an interesting challenge.
“We have so many customers with different propositions,” Boone says. “Our aim is to help them with the story, the proposition and the product.”
And he won’t be distracted from doing so, wherever he is.