Episode 5: Total Eclipse of the Heart

Cacao beans on a table form the shape of Africa, along with a bar of Total Eclipse chocolate

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Episode Transcript

Intro:0:02Every day grocery store items like bananas, chocolate, coffee — these are global commodities. They pass through a lot of people’s hands on their way from the fields to your grocery cart. This is the stories behind our food podcast, the podcast where expert guests share insight or knowledge about every step along the process. I’m Danielle Robideau — and I’m Kate Chess — and we’re your hosts.

Danielle:0:27The majority of the world’s chocolate comes from Africa, but Equal Exchange has historically always sourced its chocolate from Latin America. Dary, Kate and I engage in a conversation about the chocolate bar, the Total Eclipse, the story behind that partnership. And beginning to work in Togo. We unpack the complexity of child labor and the chocolate industry. We hope you enjoy it. So who, who are you, Dary, and what do you do for Equal Exchange? what exactly is like a day in the life?

Dary:0:58Hi. Yeah, my name is Dary Goodrich. I am Equal Exchange’s Chocolate Products Manager. And I’ve actually been at Equal Exchange probably over 15 years now. Quite a while, working in various roles. and, I manage our chocolate team and all of our chocolate products. So what does a day in the life look like? Well, I have to say every day is definitely different. The chocolate team is really responsible for managing our chocolate and cocoa products and that’s really kind of all the behind the scenes work to develop and procure products to build and manage relationships with our farmer partners and suppliers to share that knowledge that we have with our teams and our sales team to go out and get the hands in the product of our customers. So entails a whole lot of different work, from product research and development and purchasing and inventory management, and development of packaging and marketing materials to building relationships with our farmer partners and working to share their stories.

Dary:1:58So, yeah, every day is totally different. you know, a day, often there are meetings involved, and you know, connecting with manufacturing partners about our production orders, things that arise, as they’re producing or thinking about future productions. you know, looking at sales numbers, seeing how this compares to what we thought was gonna happen and how this might impact our needs for future inventory. And, you know, we have a team of four of us, so a lot of my work too is supporting my team as we kind of navigate, you know, various inventory or product issues that come up, or responding to customers. and, hopefully in there I can always kind of find time to carve out some project time and think about, kind of goals and, and future projects that we can work on for our team, to kind of always improve what we’re doing. I do actually work remotely. I’m located in Birmingham, Alabama. I was in Massachusetts at our main office for about 10 years, but since I do work remotely, sadly I don’t participate on our sensory panels, so I don’t get to do a lot of the quality work on a day to day. but of course, and I still love to eat chocolate.

Kate:3:19That is so sad. You’ve given us a real sense of the complexity of your job. And I think that Danielle and I were talking about how a lot of people have a pretty simplistic and rosy picture of what it might be like to work in chocolate. It just involves eating a lot of chocolate. Can you tell us about, if you can, about what some of that fun stuff is? We’re really curious about the process for deciding on a new chocolate product, for instance.

Dary:3:47Yeah. Well, you know, it’s a pretty sweet job. Ha! See what I did there. I actually began my time at Equal Exchange in our interfaith program back in 2001 and around 2005, 2006, at that time, you know, we were very much focused on coffee, which is still the largest part of what we do. But we realized, you know, we had other products and wanted to put more energy into chocolate and tea actually, and there was no kind of dedicated staff for either of those products. and I was like, I can’t pass up this opportunity when Equal Exchange decided to actually create positions for a chocolate products manager and tea products manager. And I was like, ah, I need to work at chocolate.

Kate:4:29So you didn’t have any chocolate experience formally at that time?

Dary:4:30No, other than selling chocolate through our interfaith program at the time. but, that was really it. so, it’s been just a great learning experience for me and just kind of building this whole program and growing it, every year and kind of new and different ways. and you know, it is super fun especially to develop products. and that’s a really kind of a fun part of, of what we do in a creative part of what we do. and you know, what Equal Exchange, I think we really try and be strategic about how many products we have. Right? There’s just a lot about, how many products you have and what that means for kind of fewer your capacity as a team to manage those. of course your inventory and your carrying costs are all those things. and, and we want to make sure we’re really offering the right products for our customers, that people are excited about.

Dary:5:25And so we know when we think about developing new products, we, we look at what’s happening out there in the market. we look at market data. our team is out there. I’m getting samples from, the market on the shelf and seeing what’s happening on the shelf. and also thinking about kind of larger food trends. and then kind of reflecting on what are we kind of, what are we missing or what might be good opportunities for us in terms of new products. and you know, out there in the food world, especially chocolate, there’s always a lot of trendy stuff that happens in the market. and for us, we want to launch a product that, at times kind of meet some of those trends, but also kind of at times meets some of those trends, but we want to do something that’s going to be more long lasting, right?

Dary:6:09That’s going to actually build a product that can build volume for our producer partners. and so a lot of of my kind of thinking behind product strategy is, is kind of combining trends with something classic so that it can actually, have more long term success. and so once we kind of looked out there and all the things that are going on and we kind of brainstorm different categories or products we might want to launch or a specific products that feel like really good possibilities from, for us. and then from there we work with our manufacturing partners to develop the recipes through a process that really kind of narrows down. A lot of times we just throw stuff up at the wall in terms of the categories we think are, are good places for us to be. and say, hey, we want to try a bunch of these, you know, three or four different things within this category., and then we, from there do a lot of sampling and would’ve like down and narrowing down to ones that we actually feel like are the right, right match and that our customers will be excited about. and then, yeah,

Kate:7:11So, if I’m understanding correctly, you would choose some ingredients perhaps and then ask manufacturing partners to play around with those? And then try them and see which ones work best?

Dary:7:19Correct. Exactly. Yup. and so, a lot of it is saying, hey, here are the ingredients we want. Here’s kind of the, the, a few different, , chocolate, percentages are recipes that we might want to try those ingredients. And, and then once we get those say, Whoa, that really didn’t work with the 55%. , so let’s try it a 65%. , and then really kind of tweaking around, the recipes to really get the best balance between, the, the ingredients and the chocolate. And I think one of the surprising things, you know, is how much inclusions, right? So the, the different ingredients we put in bars at side of just the chocolate, right? So the almonds and sea salt and lemon and ginger and things like that. How, how those really play with the chocolate. sometimes they work really well and pair where it really well and sometimes they don’t and they can really overwhelm the chocolate or make the chocolate. you know, some cases super sour when you added salty note, and like, that just doesn’t work. And so there’s a lot of back and forth and a lot of work to get to really that perfect balance that we’re excited to, launch.

Kate:8:29Yeah, that’s really interesting. Are you fumbling in the dark about that stuff or do you have more of a sense now that you’ve been doing it for a long time? What might work well, playing with the notes of the chocolate?

Dary:8:40I think we have a good starting point, but you always learn as you do it, like, Well that actually didn’t work as much. and so a lot of it is just being open, and saying, hey, we’re going to start with a few different starting points and see really where it, which direction is the right one to go in. But I do feel, you know, I feel like we’ve had some, some really good success with some product launches. I think we’re, we’re pretty good at that. We’ve also had some failures, right? Which is also how you learn and you have to do that. and, but I feel like we’re, we are good at really getting to kind of what’s up with the final product that we’re excited about it and we, we believe that customers are gonna be excited about.

Kate:9:22Well, speaking of new products, we have three new bars coming out, but we’re especially interested in talking to you about the Total Eclipse bar. We were hoping you could tell us what’s special about it and a little about that.

Dary:9:33Sure. Yeah. We are excited that we’re launching three new bars coming up here soon and the Total Eclipse is one of those, the 92% dark bar. and you know, we know more and more people, right, are looking for products with less sugar. And I think when I started in this position, you know, dark chocolate people was in the 60 to 70% range. And then years later, it was in 70 to 80% range. And you know, more recently the 80, 90% range, right? We launched an 88%. That’s done incredibly well and people are looking for that. and so we’re really excited to launch this 92%, which, has only three grams of sugar but is also, you know, for us, that’s a, that’s a super dark bar, right?

Speaker 3:10:19So we want something that, that can be challenging to get a product that actually has good flavor at that percentage, you’ve got to really have good beans, a good process to make sure that the product is not overly bitter or astringent or that they’re kind of off notes in that product. and you know, we’ve worked hard to come up with a bar that, is, you know, just a really nice chocolate bar. and just a lot of chocolate notes in it. And that sounds a little funny, talking about, chocolate because it’s chocolate, but different origins have very different flavor profiles. Right? And some are going to be more nutty. Some are going to have floral notes, some are going to be more sour. and, we are actually super excited with this bar to begin working in Africa to source some beans for this bar.

Dary:11:14This is, is not a single origin bar, but some of the beans will be coming from farmers in the country of Togo, which is located in west Africa. and up to this point, we’ve been working in Latin America. We love working with our partners in Latin America, but we are excited to begin partnering and working with, some organizations in Togo for these beans and bringing it back. The, you know, West Africa is very much known for it’s chocolatey notes in the beans. And so this bar kind of is illustrating a kind of the chocolateiness, of some of the beans that are in there.

Danielle:11:46The question that I had, it seems that, discourse around kind of labor abuses in the chocolate industry, child labor, focuses a lot on west Africa. traditionally Equal Exchange seems to have source chocolate from Latin America. can you talk about why that was chosen and how did some of those initial relationships come about?

Dary:12:17Yeah, a really good question. And you know, throughout its history, Equal Exchange has focused mainly on supporting organic farming, right and kind of more environmentally friendly farming practices. and that’s been a key part of kind of, who we are as an organization. and when we launched our chocolate program back in 2002, we started with an organic product. we actually, our first, chocolate product was actually a cocoa product. It was a cocoa mix. So we launched in 2002, which is just a great product. It’s just combining organic cocoa powder, organic sugar and actually organic milk powder. and when we started at the time, the only place where you could actually source organic cocoa or cacao was in Latin America. and so in a lot of the kind of the, the fair trade organic cacao sourcing and origins were in Latin America.

Dary:13:19And that’s, where we’ve focused a lot of our work, in Dominican Republic. And Peru and Panama, Ecuador. and for a long time really Latin America has been the leader in organic and traceable, kind of high quality and more specialty, cacao beans. And it’s really been interesting, I think to watch the cacao industry in Latin America follow the specialty coffee industry. and so a bunch of the countries in Latin America have done a really good job of supporting co ops and they’re kind of growing industries to focus on quality and provide, kind of unique flavors and higher quality caco for the chocolate industry.

Danielle:13:59Very cool. And, so, going back to the very beginning, how did some of those, where did you find those connections and how did you know, which farmers to work with and you know, were you involved in that process? Was it kind of driving around different countries to find farmers? I mean, how does, how does that work?

Dary:14:23Okay. it was actually before my time. I’m in the chocolate world. so that, that happened before me. but, really it was connection with people who were, who were doing some of this work already. And we actually ended up launching our first product in conjunction with a, a worker co op in Canada who was a hundred percent fair trade organization. They were focused on cocoa, their name is La Siembra, who’s now a close kind of partner, sister organization of ours. And and they were the ones doing it. And then, you know, we were excited about kind of the origins they were working with, which was, the Dominican Republic for the cocoa powder cooperative called CONACADO. and then also at the same time, organic and fair trade sugar coming out of Paraguay which is kind of the leading country in terms of organic sugar at the time. And working with several co ops.

Danielle:15:16Very cool. So now it seems like the direction maybe is beginning to shift a little bit with kind of your mention of a new partnership and Togo. Can you talk a little bit about that partnership and kind of where the thinking behind that came about?

Dary:15:37So, we were approached by an organization that’s been working in Togo, a fair trade organization named Gabana Togo, who’s been there for since 2015 I believe now. And, they’re working with two different cooperatives. One is named Scoops Procab, which was founded in 2013. and the second cooperative is named scoops IKPA. And they were founded in 2018 and they were originally actually, one co op, but they realized they were very far apart. And so it made more sense to split up the structures of the organizations to make it function better. and combined between the two cooperatives, there’s over 850 members and they’re located, and the regions around the cities of Kpalime and Badou, which are in the south western part of Togo, close, pretty close to the border of Ghana. And so really much, very much in the what’s called the cocoa belt of West Africa.

Dary:16:37in terms of a little bit more about them, their average farm sizes are about half a hectare to one and a half hectares. And so, just to give you a little comparison, it’s quite small. we work, traditionally with small scale farmers, for our cocoa, but in Latin America, a lot of our producers are averaging in the two to three hectares range. And they’re probably producing about 400 kilos or over 800 pounds of cocoa per hectare. And that’s also below kind of the, the world kind of average of cocoa production. I think a lot of older farms, and also older farmers, kind of the average age of farmers there is 50. and actually the life expectancy and Togo is probably about 60 years old. so yeah.

Dary:17:23But they are really investing in kind of new trees and investing in the farms. They actually I think in 2017 replanted about 80,000 new cocoa trees. and you know, I think what’s really exciting, is that they are doing organic and I think, this, you know, they’ve actually been producing cocoa in Togo, for, over a hundred years for a long time. and the industry kind of grew and then declined because there just wasn’t a lot of investment there. And so, I don’t have exact figures, but I’m guessing they’re producing, globally in Togo, for all production, maybe 5,000 to 10,000 metric tons. And to compare to two countries over in Ivory Coast, they’re producing roughly 1.8 million metric tons of cocoa. So very, very small scale. And I think what’s exciting is this is allowed these organizations to do organic, which is not, kind of, traditional in West Africa.

Dary:18:41And it’s traceable cocoa. and so, you know, we’re excited to work with organizations that are really trying to do things differently and set a different standard or an industry in this country that’s, that’s really kind of being reborn, and I think can be reborn in a really positive way. so for us, there’s still a lot to learn, right? We, we, it’s totally different context, in West Africa. So, that’s part of, part of why we would want to do this and make this step and get kind of in there and see what we can learn.

Danielle:19:16And so just to ask a little bit more about, why, why this decision, do you think that it’s more of a business decision, more of an ethical decision and why is it meaningful for Equal Exchange to, you know, to move forward with this partnership to you?

Dary:19:37Yeah, really good question. And I think, with Equal Exchange, these kinds of decisions are always often both of those things. and you know, why did we want to get into West Africa? Like I said before, it’s really the, the, the heart of the kind of major part of the industry. All right, 60 to 70% of the world’s cocoa is coming from there. so it’s, it plays a major role in the entire chocolate in industry. and beyond this, as a lot of people listening will probably know. Right. And as I previously mentioned, there has been a major focus on the problem of child labor in West Africa. and, and I want to talk about that, just kind of clarify that a little bit. what do you mean by child labor? Because I think there’s a lot of times kind of misconceptions out there about kind of how do we define that or what does that mean?

Dary:20:27And at the first level, right, it’s kids working on farms with their families, right? And so that’s, that’s something that’s normal, right. And is happens in the U S on farms. Right? and they’re helping their families out on the weekends. Outside of school. I’m doing, you know, just, safe tasks around the farm. Like, you know, my kids do chores around my house. and then there’s what’s known as the worst forms of child labor. and the International Labor Organization kind of, states this as a quote work, which by its nature or the circumstances in which is carried out, is it likely to harm the health, safety or moral slept children, unquote. Right? So, that’s really, what people are talking about. And that’s when kids are not able to go to school. When kids are working long hours, when they’re working in unsafe and I hope the conditions, and then there’s another level, which is children that are actually trafficked and ended up in slave conditions.

Dary:21:32And that’s, that’s a far smaller number, but it’s still exists. And, and I think something that’s kind of unfair to West Africa is to, it’s often, you know, explained as this is it it or it seems or is perceived as is only happening in West Africa. And this is not just happening in West Africa. It’s happening around the world that’s happening, not just in cocoa but, all sorts of crops. So sadly today, this is just a major widespread problem that still continues around the world. and even in the US and so, but that said, you know, in West Africa, because it is such a large part of the industry and it provides the most beans for the industry. There has been that focus and you know, just to give some numbers in some context, the United States government hired a Tulane University to really look at this and provide research and reporting on this issue. And they published a few different reports. Their final report was in 2015 and they compare data from the 2008-2009 harvest to the 2013-2014 harvest. And they found an overall increase in, in, children working in hazardous conditions, in the Ivory Coast and Ghana. and they wrote that over 2 million children are found in hazardous, work, during that 2013, 2014 and harvest season. So it’s, it’s a major at a, at a huge scale.

Kate:22:59Right. And my understanding is that in the chocolate industry, there’s been conversations and more light shed on this and people, big players have said that they’re going to be making improvements, but so it’s disheartening to hear that in fact, there are MORE children working in this industry than there were.

Dary:23:13Yeah. I mean there’s, there’s been a lot of conversations for a long time. and there’s, there has been some action, but I think what everyone, still believes is that it’s far, far, far from enough. and a lot of that too is it’s it’s action that, is not the right action. and, you know, from Equal Exchange’s perspective, you know, a lot of this needs to be paying farmers more. and part of the fair trade system is that there is a floor price and they were paying higher than the price. but, in 2017, the market dropped, basically by over 30%. Right. And so for farmers to lose that, and have no control over that, has a huge impact and that forces them to take drastic measures, and which can be how they, you know, aren’t, aren’t even able to pay their labor or maybe it actually stopped growing cocoa altogether. Right. it’s, it’s hard choice.

Kate:24:08Right, they’re forced out of the industry, or they hire laborers — or get laborers that aren’t being paid fairly.

Dary:24:11Correct. Yeah.

Danielle:24:23And Dary, do you see any specific difficulties around this partnership in particular? And anything that you can foresee that could be difficult for Equal Exchange in this partnership?

Dary:24:39Yeah. So, I think we’re learning that, right? I think, I think time will tell, but you’ll let us know. well, you know, of course we kind of think about these things. and you know, a few things that come to mind is, is you know, many countries in Latin America, Co ops are, well defined, they’ve been around for a long time. and they’re sometimes decently supported by the government, sometimes they’re not, it depends on the country and the context. and I think in Africa this is less true, right? So, kind of our understanding is that these organizations are learning to be co ops and, and are starting at a very different place. and so I think that’ll be something that’s for us to learn and engage with them. And I’m understand what does that really mean and what’s that look like as we progress with this relationship.

Dary:25:32You know, I know they’ve also, right now they’re doing fermentation on the farms. rather than kind of central post-harvest fermentation, and, and what that means is right, cocoa beans go through a process once they’re harvested. they actually are fermented, which goes to your process, really kind of develop the flavor of the bean and doing it on the farm. How you have less control over that, right? So there’s, the quality can be really good, but it also can be inconsistent, right? So I think that’s something that we want and I know they’re thinking about that there as well. obviously the size of the farms are very small, so, that plays a, a role in how much impact you can have, if there’s only so much land to produce on. so kind of trying to understand that piece and the other pieces that were on our side, you know, we’re, we’re only launching right now this product with these beans and it’s, it’s blended.

Dary:26:27So, yeah, it, it’s a new product, right? And so we hope it does really well. but it’s a new product and you don’t know that. And so, you know, we hope we can buy a whole bunch of beans from this operative. but, with only being in one product, it’s time will tell. Right? And so we hope we can, provides, a more kind of consistent purchasing partner for them. but time will tell. And of course we can also think about other strategies.

Kate:26:56It sounds like our listeners need to make sure to buy some chocolate. That’s the Total Eclipse bar, for folks listening at home. It’s delicious, I hear. Actually, I’ve tried it; it is delicious.

Dary:27:07It is delicious. Yeah. And we think it will do well, but, but again, it’s a new product and they’re always unknown. and there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of challenges between us and even just getting a product to the shelf and to customers. Right? It’s just not always a straight path. So those are a few things I think that we’re, we’re thinking about. But you know, I am really excited that we’re taking this step and as I said, it’s, it’s new for us and it gives us the ability to move into West Africa and learn. And really see what the reality is and how much it lines up with kind of what we hear out there in the news and and what it is on the ground and how we can potentially play a role in having, yeah. Real positive, impact along with these organizations that are doing good work in Togo.

Kate:28:00Yeah, that’s a powerful thing.

Dary:28:02Yeah, for sure.

Kate:28:02So go back to the fluffy questions. Can you tell us how you came up with the name Total Eclipse? I’m really struck by that. I’m a fiction writer and I like words.

Dary:28:14Nice. Yeah. I mean a lot of chocolate bars are pretty straightforward names. Like one of the other bars we’re launching, it’s just Almond and Sea Salt, right. So, pretty straightforward. But, with this one, we wanted to get a little bit more creative and we actually, so the process, like I was talking about before, kind of going through iterations and thinking about what’s good out in the market and we actually in this case had a team, a committee that was, a few of my colleagues from our chocolate team as well as a few folks from our sales team, working together through this whole process to come up. But these products and, that committee, we a had a few brainstorm sessions and I know some folks on the committee also got some ideas from people outside of our committee. and we had a lot of, you know, we, we’re thinking super dark, right? What are fun ways to represent that. And of course, a lot of us came back with kind of nighttime moon themes. and I believe actually a total eclipse. The name came from one of our designers, Greta Merrick, who was working on the, the labels when we were thinking about, names. And, and we all kind of took that big list and did a few rounds of voting and narrowed it down and got down to a couple of names, and let people kind of sit with it and think about, kind of does this fit with our current line? Will people understand what the product actually is, are reasons we shouldn’t use the name right. And, kind of see if the final ones made sense and worked in that. We all were definitely in love with the Total Eclipse concept and a, it was also super fun again because our designer was working on this and she got whimsical and put in an eclipse moon above the cacao tree on the top. So that’s pretty fun.

Kate:30:02An Easter egg.

Dary:30:03And then the bar is just a, you know, it’s a kind of, it’s a black label and we just are super excited about the whole concept and bringing that out in the market. We think people enjoy that.

Danielle:30:22Great. Thank you so much. Dary, for meeting with us. maybe just one last question. What’s, what’s up for, the Equal Exchange chocolate team coming in 2019.

Dary:30:35Okay, sure, of course working on a whole bunch of things. A lot of it just making sure we have products for people to purchase. and of course a lot of our energy will be focused on supporting the launch of our new bars. and a lot of our work is behind the scenes, so we’ll kind of be doing projects to kind of continue to improve how we do things logistically and, and move our product ground and get it to folks out there, the market. continuing to build our relationship with our precert partners, and do trips to origin, as well as connect our customers and farmers through trips. And so last year we did a delegation to Peru and we’re actually looking at doing several delegations this year for staff and hopefully some, some of our accounts, which is always kind of a main goal of ours to just tell those stories but also connecting. Cool. and so people can see live and, and time what it really means, both to be a farmer, but also so farmers can hear what’s happening in the US right around the chocolate, aisle. So yeah, that should be pretty exciting.

Danielle:31:43Awesome. Thanks so much. Dary, and yeah, maybe there’s a followup podcasts. How does this partnership go? I’m definitely interested in the follow up. Thank you for joining us today. Yeah, thanks for having me.

Outro:31:56Thanks for listening to the stories behind our food. How podcast by Equal Exchange inc or work around cooperative. Love this episode. Please subscribe rate and leave a review. Be sure to visit Equal Exchange.co op to join the conversation, purchase products and learn more about small scale farmers and the global supply chain. This episode was produced by Equal Exchange with hosts, Cape Chests and Danielle Robidoux. Sound engineering provided by Gary Goodman. Join us next time for another edition of the stories behind our food.

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