8 Nov 2021

"Making a difference": views on Fairtrade cocoa and sustainability

A webinar with Tony’s Chocolonely and Lidl highlighted different approaches to fairer and more sustainable cocoa.

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Fairtrade cocoa is grown in more than 20 countries and goes into some of your favourite chocolate products.
Association for promoting Fairtrade in Finland

Who grows my food, are they paid fairly, and do they use eco-friendly farming methods? These are some of the questions being asked by conscious consumers as the COP26 global climate summit in Glasgow this month brings issues of sustainability to the foreground.

Addressing this topic – with a particular focus on cocoa supply chains – Sustainable Brands hosted a webinar on 3 November with Fairtrade, Lidl, and Tony’s Chocolonely. (Missed it? Watch the webinar recording now.)

  • Cécile Henrard of Fairtrade Belgium talked about sustainability and consumer trends in the cocoa industry, and described the various options companies have to strengthen sustainability through their supply chains with Fairtrade.
  • Anne-Marie Yao, Regional Cocoa Manager for Fairtrade Africa, shared the challenges facing cocoa farmers, including the 18 percent drop in price in West Africa compared to a year ago. She outlined how Fairtrade's approach addresses farmers' challenges, including improving incomes, strengthening cooperatives, and building climate resilience.
  • Philippe Weiler, Head of Sustainability for the German discounter Lidl, talked about Lidl's evolution to offering all Fairtrade certified chocolate, and developing their own Way to Go! Chocolate bar that pays farmers living income prices.
  • Paul Schoenmakers, Head of Impact for Tony's Chocolonely, shared his company's experiences developing a new chocolate brand grounded in a sustainability mission.

Sustainability in chocolate

According to research from GlobeScan Radar, people around the world are increasingly changing their purchasing choices in an effort to make a difference on issues they care about. What’s more, just over three quarters of consumers now say they believe they can influence how responsibly a company behaves through their shopping choices.

Increased appetite for fairly-sourced chocolate is also reflected in sales of Fairtrade cocoa, which had a strong year in international consumer markets, with more brands adding the label to their products. Austria, Belgium, Italy and the US are all examples of markets with strong growth in sales of Fairtrade cocoa products in 2020.

Moving towards a living income for cocoa farmers

In fact, brands like Tony’s Chocolonely as well as Lidl are continuing to deliver more for their cocoa farmers. In partnership with Fairtrade International, both companies have developed unique schemes that use Fairtrade as the base and build up towards a living income.

During the webinar, Paul Schoenmakers described the decision of Tony's Chocolonely to take an additional step beyond sourcing Fairtrade to accelerate farmers' progress out of poverty. "We decided then to start paying more and figure out how much more was enough to enable farmers to earn a living income." He continued, "We worked on that model for a couple of years. With help from Fairtrade and the living income community of practice, I’m very proud that two years ago we were able to jointly publish what is now called a Living Income Reference Price for cocoa."

Philippe Weiler of Lidl also shared the progress the discounter made toward supporting living incomes. After trying different options for marketing Fairtrade chocolate, Lidl realized "if we really want to make sustainability part of our habit, we should radically change."

He continued, "We decided to make a full product range 100% sustainable. And that’s what we did – since 2017, whether it’s bananas or different product categories such as chocolate, we decided to have everything sustainable, which means everything from the chocolate bar to the small chocolate pieces in the cereals."

Weiler described being inspired by the story of Tony's Chocolonely in fact, and kicking off a brainstorming process with Fairtrade Belgium that resulted in the Way to Go! Chocolate bars reaching shelves within six months. The living income-supporting brand is now being sold in 30 countries.

Supporting stronger producers, achieving a fairer future

Supply chains can be long and complicated. Having resources in the region products are grown make it easier to develop sustainability measures. Fairtrade Africa operates as regional offices across the continent to enable partnerships like with Lidl and Tony’s Chocolonely become a reality.

"[Tony's Chocolonely] is the first chocolate company certified by Fairtrade Netherlands and I think lots of the things that shaped our choice then till hold good now," said Paul Schoenmakers. "We are aligned in our vision that a sustainable cocoa sector needs strong farmers and farmer organizations and better prices. Both those are embedded in the Fairtrade certification scheme."

"It's making a difference," said Anne-Marie Yao, talking about how coops are gaining stability and expertise thanks to long-term commitments with commercial partners.

The Fairtrade West Africa Cocoa Programme reached around 270 producer organizations and more than 160,000 farmers in 2020 with training on the Fairtrade Standards, with a subset of these participating in more intensive support on topics ranging from financial management, to child labour, to climate resilience.

"Here’s some food for thought for all of us," said Yao during the webinar, bringing the topic around to the climate crisis at top of mind especially during COP26.

"When farmers already struggle to afford essentials like nutritious food, healthcare, children’s schooling, due to the low price that they get for their crops, how can we expect them to meet the cost of investing in green energy, planting trees or cutting their on-farm emissions?"

To hear much more about Fairtrade cocoa and the stories of how Lidl and Tony’s Chocolonely are addressing sustainability through their chocolate, watch the webinar recording.