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Supply Chain
New Developments in the Ongoing Quest for Sustainable Chocolate

While the 4th edition of the Chocolate Scorecard examines over 70 chocolate companies on their social and environmental performance, WNWN Food Labs’ ‘Wegg’ offers a look at a truly sustainable alternative.

Latest Chocolate Scorecard shows which brands aren’t quite as sweet as they taste

Image credit: Original Beans

Just in time for Easter, a new report from a team of global researchers and environmental NGOs evaluates over 70 chocolate companies on their social and environmental performance (not to mention the apparently high levels of heavy metals they might contain, but that’s another story) — some sweet, but many decidedly bitter.

The 4th edition of the Chocolate Scorecard shines a light on what, exactly, customers are consuming when they purchase their favorite chocolate.

An initiative spearheaded by an international team of 37 collaborators — including NGOs Be Slavery Free and Mighty Earth; along with Macquarie University, Open University and University of Wollongong Associate Professor Stephanie Perkiss — the Chocolate Scorecard aims to transform the cocoa industry and encourage consumers to take a closer look at their favorite chocolate brands.

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The 4th edition evaluates 72 global chocolate manufacturers, brands and retailers (private labels) — which forms approximately 95 percent of the industry — against six markers: Traceability and Transparency, Living Income, Child and Forced Labor, Deforestation and Climate, Agroforestry and Agri-Chemical Management.

Perkiss, who specializes in examining social and environmental issues through an accounting lens, said one of the key sustainability markers in researching and collating the Chocolate Scorecard was deforestation. While deforestation may not be front of mind for consumers when choosing their favorite chocolate, Perkiss said it is an urgent issue with global impacts.

“To state the obvious, we humans love chocolate. Globally, we consume approximately 7.5 million tonnes of chocolate — a number that grows every year,” she said. “However, the not-so-sweet truth is that to create space for new cocoa farms, the chocolate industry is fueling deforestation at an alarming rate, hitting the accelerator on climate change, destroying native habitats and leaving a bitter taste in our mouths.”

“Forests are a critical natural resource in the fight against global warming as they both absorb and store carbon. When forests are destroyed, the carbon that was stored within the forest is released into the atmosphere.

“We’re not suggesting you need to break up with chocolate (we couldn’t if we tried). But with today’s technology, there are better ways to make chocolate while meeting increasing consumer demand.”

The team — led by Australian NGO Be Slavery Free — reached out to chocolate manufacturers and brands around the world to contribute to the scorecard through a combination of surveys, interviews and self-reporting.

The ‘Good Eggs’ or best-scoring companies addressing deforestation are Original Beans, Tony's Chocolonely (which is also on a mission to eliminate slavery from chocolate supply chains), Beyond Good, HALBA, Ferrero, Nestlé and Mars — these companies have undertaken efforts to tackle deforestation, which put them at the top of the pack relative to their peers (see more brand scores here).

West Africa produces three-quarters of the world’s cocoa. Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana are the largest producers; and the two countries have lost roughly 94 percent and 80 percent of their forest cover, respectively, in the past 60 years with approximately one-third of that loss due to growing cocoa. In 2018, they also had the highest rise in primary forest loss of any tropical country; in 2020, another 47,000 ha of forest was lost in cocoa-growing areas of Côte d'Ivoire.

When forests are destroyed, the carbon stored within the forest is released into the atmosphere — as are the habitats of native animals and birds. The deforestation in Africa has destroyed much of the natural habitat of great apes, gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobo.

65 percent of the chocolate manufacturers surveyed did not have a target date set for improving deforestation and implementing agroforestry.

Be Slavery Free co-director Fuzz Kitto said the Chocolate Scorecard has had a tangible impact on communities and the cocoa supply chain. But there is progress to be made.

“The Chocolate Scorecard is enabling change. Chocolate manufacturers tell us this scorecard is having an impact on their strategic direction,” Kitto said. “We are seeing processes being improved, an end to deforestation and the beginning of a switch to sustainable practices — which, ultimately, will improve productivity. But policy is not the same as implementation.”

Perkiss said the Chocolate Scorecard is driving change in the industry by shining a light on unsavory practices and holding global manufacturers to account. But it also highlights those that are engaging in good practices and making a significant impact in addressing issues within their manufacturing processes and supply chains.

“Every chocolate purchase matters and sends a message to the chocolate producers that you value the steps they are taking to implement best practice into their farming, manufacturing and supply chain processes,” Perkiss said. “While being aware of where your chocolate comes from is really important to keep in mind this Easter, issues of sustainability and slavery are year-round.”

Meet the ‘Wegg’: the world’s first cocoa-free choc Easter egg

Image credit: WNWN Food Labs

Meanwhile, some chocolate producers are taking a completely different approach that all but eliminates the environmental and social red flags surrounding their conventional counterparts. This week, foodtech startup WNWN Food Labs — the first company to bring cocoa-free chocolate to market — unveiled the world’s first cocoa-free chocolate Easter egg.

The Wegg is 15cm high and 10cm wide; weighs approximately 100 grams; and has nutty, malty notes with a smooth dulce de leche finish. Inside the Wegg is a surprise filling — another cocoa-free choc creation from WNWN.

“Having launched the first cocoa-free chocolate products, we recognized an opportunity to create the first — and currently only — cocoa-free choc egg, to show that Easter should be celebrated ethically and sustainably,” said WNWN CTO and co-founder Dr. Johnny Drain. “While this is not yet a consumer product; due to our scale-up efforts, you shouldn’t be surprised to see the Wegg in baskets next year.”

This first Wegg will not be sold — it will be awarded to a UK-based Instagram follower at random via a contest running April 3 until 23:59 on Easter Monday, April 10. The winner will also receive a certificate of authenticity.

Like the growing crop of innovators turning to fermentation to create lower-impact and animal-free alternatives to some of our favorite foods, WNWN (pronounced “win-win”) employs a proprietary fermentation process to transform widely available plant-based ingredients such as grains and legumes to create cocoa-free chocolate that tastes, melts, snaps and bakes just like conventional chocolate. It is vegan, caffeine-free, gluten-free, palm oil-free, lower in sugar than comparable products.

“The way cocoa beans have been fermented and roasted has been refined over hundreds and hundreds of years to come up with this delicious stuff we call chocolate,” Drain told Sustainable Brands® in a recent interview. But when I put my chemist hat on, I asked myself, ‘Why can’t you end up with that same flavor profile, but just start with something different’?”

As a starting point for its first product, WNWN landed on British barley and Italian carob — the latter of which comes from a pod of a tree of the same name and is rich in polyphenol antioxidants, just like cacao. WNWN’s cocoa-free products produce 80 percent less carbon emissions than conventional chocolates, based on an internal lifecycle analysis.

In addition to increasing concerns from NGOs and stakeholders alike about deforestation, habitat destruction and unfair labor practices in conventional chocolate supply chains (more than a million child laborers are estimated to work in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana), cocoa crops are also highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change — including rising temperatures and reduced rainfall — which has led experts to predict chocolate shortages in the coming years.