Of course, there’s no guarantee that buying these bars translates into good returns for cocoa growers, the elusive goal of all fair-trade hopes. But it does establish the notion that one cacao bean is not like another. Two decades ago, this happened with coffee: consumers became aware of differences between Sumatran and Jamaican and Colombian beans. Demand is now blossoming for coffees of known origin, along with specialty coffees carrying organic, fair-trade, shade-grown or “bird-friendly” labels.
The current champion of provenance is Paris-born Pierrick Marie Chouard. Having worked in the candy industry, he’s seen the abuses in the third-world system firsthand. Chouard sells varietals through his New Jersey company, echocolates.com, a member of the Rain Forest Alliance. If cocoa growers make more money, he argues, the social structure will be improved—with less need for people to turn to the prostitution and drug trade rampant in cocoa-producing countries.
Consumers can get involved by looking for chocolate or cocoa marked with a “fair-trade certified” label, mostly found in natural-foods stores. Finally, speak up if you care. Ask chefs and chocolate sellers where their chocolate comes from and if they have fair-trade chocolate. It is almost guaranteed to taste better and it surely enriches our appreciation of a wonderful indulgence.