I love when people ask me that question because it gives me the chance to get them excited about the value of - and values behind - Chocolate Riot. Our pricing involves so much of what I’m passionate about regarding chocolate: premium ingredients which lead to excellent chocolate, fair labor practices, and conscious environmental practices. This world of craft chocolate (also known as bean-to-bar, artisan, or fine chocolate) could not be more different from the world of the $.99 cent chocolate you buy at the gas station, yet it’s all called chocolate. By the end of this article, you will have a completely new understanding of the differences in the products and the pricing.
Chocolate has historically been considered one of the most damaging crops to the environment. Much of the problem has to do with the rainforest acreage that has been cleared to grow cacao trees - and we all know how critical the rainforest is to plant and animal biodiversity, carbon absorption, oxygen production, climate regulation, and so many other matters. The thing is, cacao trees originated as an understory tree, growing naturally among many other trees and plants in tropical forests. When chocolate became a mass-produced commodity, it was thought to be more efficient to cut down the forest and grow cacao trees in fields, hence the destruction. But not all cacao is growth that way, and it is possible to buy cacao that is grown among both fruit and hardwood trees and other crops, preserving the rainforest while giving the farmer multiple income streams. That’s a total win-win!
Many of us are used to consuming - or grew up eating - inexpensive mass-produced chocolate which costs a teeny fraction of what our chocolate costs to manufacture. We use premium quality, organic, sustainably-grown and ethically-sourced ingredients, which makes our ingredients far more expensive than mass-produced chocolate. We also use fewer ingredients, only cacao and sugar. Let’s look at cacao, the main ingredient of Chocolate Riot chocolate.
Cacao is by far the most expensive ingredient in chocolate, and it makes up a full 70% of Chocolate Riot chocolate. In comparison, the biggest-maker chocolates contain just 11% cacao. What a difference! This is shocking not only because of the huge cost savings to those big-name producers, but also because it begs the question, what exactly is in the other 89% of the bar? But wait, there’s more. The cacao used by big makers is of an inferior quality - those companies don’t need for the cacao to have much flavor since it is used in such small amounts in their recipes. So that means they can focus on getting cacao that is cheapest. They often use cacao from trees that have been genetically modified so that they are disease resistant and have very high yield (a famous genotype is called CCN-51) - but in order to obtain these desirable characteristics, flavor is sacrificed. Cheaper chocolate is diluted with sugar, milk powder, soy lecithin, vanillin, and sometimes other inclusions which not only make the chocolate less expensive to make, but also mask the taste of the inferior-quality cacao. Because Chocolate Riot chocolate has nothing added to change or mask the flavor of the cacao, it is imperative that we start with the best-quality cacao on the market.
The cost of our cacao is high not only of its premium quality, but also because we make sure that our farmers are paid at minimum a living wage. While that may not seem terribly innovative, it actually is a radical practice in the chocolate business. Tragically, the chocolate industry is famous for having had terrible labor practices since the first European explorers to Central and South America tasted chocolate and began taking it back to Europe. When forced labor in the New World colonies died from diseases they had no resistance to, the Europeans in the early 17th century began to send slaves from Africa to the Americas to farm cacao, among other crops. Forced labor, child labor, and mistreatment of workers through long hours, work with dangerous equipment, and extremely low pay have been and still are problems in the chocolate industry. Although these are all bigger issues in African cacao-producing countries than in Guatemala, the source of Chocolate Riot’s cacao, we are happy to pay more for cacao - several times more than the commodity price - to insure that we are not taking advantage of workers or putting anyone in harm’s way. We see what a difference the higher price makes to the farmers and communities who benefit. The Guatemalan farmers have been able to support their families, keep a budget, and plan for the future. Younger family members are now planning to take over their family farms when previously they had to move away from home to try to find work. We hear and see so much about the economic collapse of countries in Central and South America and are heartbroken by the resulting desperate actions taken by people of all ages. It’s incredibly gratifying to help with opening up choices for these farmers and their families!
Our own labor is expensive as well because of the time-consuming process of making and packaging our chocolate. We literally hand make every small piece of chocolate and then hand pack it into each box! To us, it’s worth all of the extra work, because our Thins give people such a rich experience of chocolate. The slivers encourage people to slow down and be present as they enjoy a piece melting in their mouth. Conscious savoring means people experience the chocolate’s full flavor, which in turn makes them value chocolate more.
And of course our packaging is far more expensive than even that of our craft chocolate peers. The beautiful boxes communicate to our customers that what’s inside the box is something truly special. Because it is! If Chocolate Riot is a gift to someone else, that receiver is going to feel valued. And if it’s a gift to yourself, we hope that you feel treasured every time you open up the box or slide out the drawer and select a sliver.
We are on a mission to elevate chocolate’s worth in the eyes of the consumer. We think that when people understand what goes into a box of Chocolate Riot, they will value it even more. Just about everyone wants their grandchildren to be able to enjoy chocolate, right? In order for that to happen, we all need to contribute to making chocolate a sustainable industry. That means paying what it actually costs to make chocolate when everyone along the supply chain is treated the way that we at Chocolate Riot want to be treated.
Please help us spread the word about the value of paying more for chocolate. The growers and their families, our workers and families, your grandchildren, and the planet all thank you!