Valentine’s Day is upon us, and whether you love it or loathe it, most of us will end up getting involved, one way or another. And along with flowers, February 14th also means chocolate. World cocoa production reached 3.7 million tonnes in 2008, according to the International Cocoa Association. But cocoa production is ripe with controversy. A 2011 report funded by the U.S. Department of Labor revealed ‘a projected total of 819,921 children in the Ivory Coast and 997,357 children in Ghana worked on cocoa-related activities’ during a 12-month period. These children are often involved in hazardous labour and trafficking, the report says. Even after the 2001 implementation of the Harkin-Engel Protocol, which aims to ‘eliminate the worst forms of child labour,’ the chocolate industry still has a long way to go.
In addition to humanitarian concerns, the cocoa industry is also dealing with the impact of global warming. According to a 2011 report by the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, temperatures in the cocoa-growing regions of the Ivory Coast and Ghana are predicted to rise by more than two degrees Celsius by 2050. This will affect the suitability of current crop sites, which means that farmers will have to adapt production methods to suit changing conditions. This all paints a grim picture for the future of the world’s sweet treat, but it’s not all doom and gloom. Despite the challenges, there are several local chocolatiers who are committed to making sweets in a sustainable way. Whether they’re a gift or a personal treat, this year’s truffles can be eco-friendly and guilt-free.
Best for seasonal fare
Niko B. makes its chocolates, which are Fairtrade and 100 per cent organic, in small batches using local, seasonal ingredients. ‘I think it’s important to understand where your product comes from,’ says founder Anthony Ferguson, who traded in a career in Silicon Valley for chocolate 10 years ago. Niko B., which is certified by the Soil Association, also aims to use biodegradable and recycled packaging whenever possible, and participates in composting. Ferguson’s chocolates can be bought online and at the Stoke Newington Farmers' Market, where he buys the majority of his ingredients. You can also visit their pop-up Love Chocolate Shop at the Avo Hotel from February 3rd until the 14th. And if you still haven’t picked up a gift for your special someone, consider Niko B.’s Love Chocolate Dessert Club on the big day. For £26 you’ll get four courses, champagne, private shopping at the chocolate shop and a chocolate making demo.
‘I think it’s important that people consider what it means to support small, local businesses,’ Ferguson says. ‘Without our small local producers what we might be left with is a wasteland - a barren base for food.’
Best for choosy types
Sussex-based Cocoa Loco is crazy about organic chocolate. Like Ferguson, founder Sarah Payne, and husband Rory, traded in IT jobs for truffles and brownies. ‘It’s really difficult because in the economic climate people are looking to save money, and big supermarkets can offer much cheaper prices than we can,’ Payne says. ‘But our products are really artisan. You are getting something which has been made lovingly, and it’s been made by people in the local community. I think that’s important.’ Selling everything from brownies to cookies to truffles, Cocoa Loco even offers vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free and egg-free options. And Payne says the company is going through the process of Fairtrade certification. ‘There’s so much exploitation in the chocolate world,’ she says. ‘It’s really important to us that the farmers are paid a fair wage for their work and their crops, and that nobody’s exploited along the line.’
Cocoa Loco’s products, which are Soil Association certified, are available online through Abel and Cole. And if organic and Fairtrade isn’t enough, Payne says Cocoa Loco is also committed to operating an eco-friendly low impact shop by using green cleaning products, composting and recycling. ‘We try to leave as small an environmental footprint as we can,’ she says. ‘It’s something we’ve always felt strongly about.’
Best for locally made treats
Founded by ex-lawyers Helen and Simon Pattinson in 2000, Montezuma’s is an award-winning chocolate company with five shops in the UK. Working with co-ops in the Dominican Republic and Peru, the company is committed to ethically sourcing cocoa in a way they say is better than Fairtrade, having chosen not to pursue certification. Proud to be British, all of Montezuma’s chocolates are locally made in West Sussex. The company also works to limit its impact on the environment. Such efforts include recycling and reusing packaging and hot water from their chocolate tanks. Montezuma’s not only offers organic handmade truffles and bars, but also vegan sweets. Try the Sunrise, an organic and vegan dark chocolate orange truffle sprinkled with sugar for £4.79 a bag. Or if you really want to splurge on your special someone go for the Valentine’s Hamper, which includes truffles, fudge and chocolate bars.
Best for adventurous tastebuds
Seed and Bean of Nottingham makes sustainable chocolates with organic herbs, spices, oils and fruits. The company makes all of its chocolates in the UK, and wraps the bars in compostable vegetable-derived wrappers. In addition to being Fairtrade and Soil Association certified, Seed and Bean also holds the title of the UK’s highest ranking chocolate brand in the ‘Good Shopping Guide’ from the Ethical Company Organisation. ‘For us organic means being ethical and we do what we can to support the environment’ says managing director Jonathan Shorts. ‘We’re looking for ethical, sustainable, creative ingredients.’ Seed and Bean’s bars come in a variety of unusual flavours including pumpkin and hemp, and mandarin and ginger. And if that doesn’t tempt your taste buds try a large bar of dark chocolate topped with sweet and sour soft cherries, £7.99, for a truly unique treat. The standard bars, which cost just over £2, can be bought throughout the UK and in Sweden and Lebanon.
Best for your wallet
London-based Divine is a Fairtrade chocolate company that is 45 per cent owned by the farmers. The cooperative, called Kuapa Kokoo, is made up of more than 45,000 Ghanaian cocoa farmers. ‘Ownership of the business means the farmers of Kuapa Kokoo get a share of the valuable chocolate market (as well as getting the Fairtrade premium for their cocoa) and have a real voice in the chocolate industry,’ says Charlotte Borger, head of communications. Divine also works to reduce its carbon footprint by using corn starch trays inside their chocolate boxes, and also moved its warehouse to Hull in order to cut down ‘chocolate miles.’ Divine’s Valentine’s confections include dark, milk and strawberry white chocolate hearts, which cost £4.50 a pack and are available at Waitrose, Oxfam shops and online. Or opt for the Sweet Romance gift set, which comes with a bag of hearts and a bottle of Stellar Organics Rose wine at £12.50. And if you’re outside the UK, you may not be out of luck. Divine’s bars are also available in the U.S., Scandinavia and the Netherlands.
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