Using Sustainable Cacao Ingredients as a Market Differentiator
Dec 17th 2022
How to Promote your Sustainable and Craft Products as a Small Business
As consumers become more and more aware of the impact that their buying choices have on the environment, they are looking for products that are produced in a sustainable way. It’s not just about buying organic or using less plastic; sustainability has become a broad term to define the entire life cycle of a product, from its sourcing to the ways in which it makes its way into consumers’ hands.
Sustainable cacao is no exception, meaning if you are using cacao as an ingredient in your products — from craft beer and bakery items to soaps and other beauty care products — you’ve got to pay attention to sustainability to stay competitive. Not only is using sustainable cacao a better choice for the planet and the people who work in the cacao industry, but it’s also a smart way to differentiate yourself from the competition. In the following guide, we walk you through the ins and outs of sustainability as it pertains to cacao. In the end, you will be better equipped to make any necessary changes and meet consumer demand while having a positive impact on the world.
Why Sustainability Matters
Sustainability is a broad concept encompassing environmental protection, social equity, and economic development. Today, sustainability is summed up as the term “sustainable development,” which involves making choices that will allow us to live better lives now while also leaving enough resources for future generations to live equally good lives.
The concept of sustainability has become increasingly important to modern consumers who care about the broader impact of the products they choose to buy. The most recent Food and Health Survey from the International Food Information Council shows a sharp uptick in demand for environmental sustainability.
In particular, research on the youngest adults, known as Gen Z, shows they are more likely to purchase products labeled as carbon-neutral or having a small carbon footprint. In addition, 73% say they have a greater concern about the environmental impact of their food than other generations.
Yet other generations care, too. Millennials, parents of young children, college graduates, and those with higher incomes were more likely to count themselves among the 52% who said their food and beverage choices have an impact on the environment.
Simply put, consumers are looking at the packaging, reading more about the products they're considering, and learning more about the journey of a product from the time it’s grown or produced to when it’s in their hands. Brands that wish to attract and keep this increasingly aware audience need to prioritize sustainability.
The Problem With Non-Sustainable Cacao
The cacao bean, commonly known as cocoa, grows mainly in the tropical climates of Western Africa, Latin America, and Asia. The Western African countries of Ghana and the Ivory Coast supply approximately 70% of the world’s cocoa, which is then sold to the vast majority of chocolate companies. This includes many of the large brands with which you may be familiar.
If you’re using chocolate to make any kind of craft products, including food and beverage items, there’s a good chance it came from one of these regions — that is, unless you are consciously making an effort to source sustainably. The problem with this non-sustainable cacao is that certain organizations and journalists in recent years have uncovered the widespread use of child labor and even slavery on cocoa farms in Western Africa.
In these regions, most cocoa farmers earn less than $1 a day and resort to using child labor to stay competitive. Children working under such conditions are exposed to the unthinkable — trafficked from their homes and sold into slavery for mere dollars, and forced to work long hours under grueling, abusive, and dangerous conditions. Fed a cheap diet of corn paste, cassava, or bananas and forced to live in unsanitary and uncomfortable conditions, these children face a life of hardship with no freedom, education, or ability to live as a child deserves.
Why Sustainable Cacao?
Under pressure from consumers and various lawsuits brought about against them, chocolate companies have only recently admitted to the presence of child labor and slavery within their supply chains. Admitting it is one thing; actually, making a change is another. This is why it’s so important to look closely at where you are sourcing your cacao products — whether you are making craft beers or bakery items or creating fancy soaps with cacao nibs.
With sustainable and ethical cacao, cocoa is produced under fair and ethical conditions for farmers and workers. It meets ethical standards that help eliminate child slavery from cocoa-producing countries while providing farmers with fair wages, benefits, access to education, better housing conditions, and access to sustainable farming tools. It also helps provide sustainable jobs for people who may otherwise be forced into child labor practices or other forms of exploitation due to poverty levels in these countries.
Beyond the ethical benefits, sustainable cacao also has a positive environmental impact in the following ways:
- Promotes ecological and organic farming
- Avoids harvesting cacao from the Amazon jungle, thereby preventing deforestation
- Promotes Agroforestry projects
- Promotes the use of natural fertilizers like husks and cacao pot skin
- Protects natural resources by using hydroelectric power in processing plants
- Avoids using chemicals in processing that are harmful to the environment
- Utilizes all parts of the cacao fruit to minimize waste
- Use cacao as nibs or liquor instead of beans with shell, leaving about 25% of waste products (cocoa shell) at the origin. That means 25% less of waste does not have to be shipped through ocean containers with fossil fuels
- Minimizes plastic and seeks out an alternative, compostable materials for packing and shipping, such as cornstarch packing peanuts and other biodegradable materials
Set Yourself Apart as a Sustainability Partner
Using sustainably sourced cacao can be a great way to differentiate yourself from other brands that have yet to engage in sustainable practices. With sustainable cacao, you can take your beer marketing, chocolate marketing, and other promotional practices to new heights. Promote your bakery, brewery, cafe, ice cream shop, or sustainable craft products as you use chocolate that’s sustainable, ethical, and responsible — not to mention delicious!
By using organic or fair trade cacao in your products, you can demonstrate your commitment to ethical sourcing and increase customer loyalty at the same time. This trend isn’t limited to just chocolate bars or chocolate-flavored products; many companies are using sustainable cacao in other types of products like ice cream, baked goods, and beverages. You can even find sustainable cocoa butter used in lotions, soaps, and other personal care products.
Below, we’ve included just a few ideas for incorporating sustainability into your marketing and setting yourself apart from your competitors.
Be proud of your efforts to be sustainable — make sure your audience knows how and where you source your cacao! Get creative with your graphics, tagline, and terminology used in your marketing materials. From your logo to your packaging, everything should scream “sustainability.” This will encourage like-minded consumers to pick up your product off store shelves, click on your ads, visit your website, or stop by your store.
Consider Your Packaging
Embrace sustainability in your packaging, too. Green packaging is more common than it used to be, but you can still find ways to stand out — whether that means using recycled materials or choosing an environmentally friendly material like paper instead of plastic packaging. With the right design and a sustainable look and feel, it can make for an eye-catching look on social media and in storefronts.
Show Off Sustainability on Your Website
People want to know what goes into the products they buy, so tell them! Show off your sustainability practices on your website, write blogs about them, and create ads that explain how and why your products are sustainable. This will help build trust between you and your customers, which can lead to increased sales when they know they're buying from someone who cares about more than just profit margins.
Take to Social Media
Tell your audience on social media about your sustainability practices — show them you care about these topics! Consider partnering with influencers who care about sustainability and can help promote your brand. Many influencers, especially micro-influencers, will promote your brand in exchange for free products; be sure to provide them with a unique discount code that they can share with their followers.
If you are new to sustainable cacao and other sustainability practices, it’s important to start small, so you don’t get overwhelmed and quit. Whether you are just getting started with creating sustainable craft products or you’re interested in making the switch to new suppliers, it’s never too early or too late to start thinking about sustainability.
And remember, you don't need to create big projects or spend a lot of money to share your sustainability vision; every little bit helps to make an improvement toward sustainability. Just start small, and in time, your little steps will add up to big, sustainable strides. Here are a few ideas for starting small:
- Start with the packaging. If you’re using plastic to package your products, for instance, consider switching it out for something that's recyclable or compostable.
- Examine your list of suppliers used in production, and inquire about their sustainability practices. At CocoaSupply, we offer transparent pricing to farmers and take social responsibility seriously. We are committed to making it easier to incorporate sustainability into your business and educating future generations of chocolate makers, and promoting sustainable projects and agroforestry farms.
- Take action. Not all large chocolate companies will take the actions needed to put an end to child labor and slavery, but that doesn’t mean you have to follow suit. Get vocal about your focus on working with sustainable suppliers to make it known that you refuse to buy cacao from non-sustainable companies.
A Few Caveats
Be aware that while up to one-third of all cacao is grown under a certification label — such as those indicating fair trade certifications and the Rainforest Alliance/UTZ certification — there is no single label that can guarantee a chocolate product was made without the use of child and slave labor.
Moreover, third-party inspectors who verify such certifications are typically only required to visit less than 10% of cocoa farms. These farms are also often given a heads-up about audits, giving them time to mask any evidence of rule violations. In short, a label that says “fair trade certified” isn’t necessarily indicative of fair and ethical practices.
At CocoaSupply, however, we can guarantee sustainability, and we live up to the standards we promote. Working directly with small farms and coops, our plant in Ecuador ensures all of our products are fairly traded and sustainability-focused, helping to bolster the working and living conditions for farmers and their communities. To learn more about our sustainability and social efforts, click here.