I have been a chocolate LOVER my whole life. So, in 2009, when I heard about the extensive bonded labor, child trafficking and unfair wages taking place in the chocolate industry (See Oxfam “Behind the Brands” or Harkin–Engel Protocol for more information), something rose-up within me. I KNEW I HAD to be part of the solution. I also knew that government legislation alone could not solve this problem. This is largely a business problem - so business must take the lead in solving it.
In 2013, at the mid-point of my career, I finally chose to take an uncharted path (quite literally – ask me about the boa constrictor, hitch-hiking in the jungle and my hierarchy of bug “responses”). Neither the best business schools nor my corporate experience could have prepared me for the story that is now unfolding.
When I began with the support of family and friends, our main prayer was to uncover ways the farmers could earn more income. But, Jesus [in effect] said, “It’s not enough. Give them life, fullness of life in Me.” We’re still not sure what this looks like in practice, but we’ve defined our purpose as “restoring life for all involved in the cocoa value chain - from growers to eaters.” We consider and weigh every decision against this purpose as well as the plumb line of what we believe about Jesus’ Word and character.
I had NO IDEA what "restoring life" looks like in the context of a cocoa farming community, so I desperately needed to spend time in one (or many!) communities. In 2013 and 2014, I spent about six months in Indonesia and Ecuador cocoa farming communities to try to better understand their lives and the cocoa value chain from beginning to end. During this time, I not only got to spend time with smallholder farmers, but also I was privileged to take part in Indonesia's CSP Road Map to Sustainable Indonesian Cocoa Production. This allowed me to see the larger industry focus (maximizing yields & improving quality which are still the fastest ways to increase community income) and where others might be able to come augment their efforts (post-harvest activities). I began to quickly realize that if cocoa farmers are making about a quarter of a living wage, then the HUGE goal of DOUBLING yields will get them halfway to a living wage... More must be done! I started praying for God-inspired post-harvest ideas to improve income. I didn't want to compete with global chocolate makers (farmers' current customers), so I was looking for new, non-chocolate ideas that could be created in farming communities. Additionally, it was obvious that we could NOT count on reliable electricity, running water or national infrastructure. Ha - no problem, right?
As time went on, I got stuck on the idea of a whole, shelled cacao bean. The more I experimented and learned, the more benefits I saw:
- an incredibly stable superfood that has a similar nutritional profile to nuts, super high antioxidants and far fewer allergies,
- it's naturally bite-sized, making it the perfect snack,
- production processes complement rather than compete with chocolate,
- the post-harvest work appeals to women who have historically been quite underutilized (and therefore underemployed) in the cocoa supply chain!
The typical American palate is not quite ready for a plain whole, shelled cacao bean. Cocoa doesn’t naturally contain any sugar - AT ALL. So, 100% cocoa typically only appeals to the tiny but growing minority who enjoy black coffee or tea without any cream or sugar, bold red wines, and whiskey - neat.
So, I began a long series of kitchen experiments and tested (aka tortured) the taste buds of friends and family for many months. I eventually decided to lightly caramelize and flavor the whole beans in organic cane sugar, pure herbs & spices that would accentuate cocoa’s complexity and depth like a fine wine (after all, I spent the first 11 years of my career in the wine industry!) instead of masking it.
Our goal is create exquisite products from beginning to end in farming communities. There are many steps to get there. For now, for food safety reasons, our roasting, flavoring & packaging is completed in Seattle. Even so, we're proud of the progress our partner communities are making - they earn >50% MORE income than fair trade prices and premiums by creating whole, shelled cacao beans in their community. And, because we're training them to become FDA-qualified food processors (vs. only agricultural exporters), their market opportunities are expanding rapidly!
Our story is just beginning. Thank you for being a part of it!
Kim Wilson, Co-Founder