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Supply Chain
UN-Backed Chocolate Bar Enables Consumers to Directly Impact Farmer Livelihoods

The Other Bar is an experiment in influencing consumer behaviour through quantifiable proof of impact. If it can prove that consumers will buy and be loyal to impactful products, the hope is that bigger brands will want to follow suit, turning their marketing dollars into impact.

It has been a bone of contention between corporate brand managers and sustainability professionals for years: Consumers say they prefer more responsible and ethical products; but when it comes to the crunch, they just don’t put their money where their mouth is.

In the US, research suggests the "intention gap" is closing, at least for consumer packaged goods (CPG). NYU Stern’s Center for Sustainable Business found that 50 percent of all growth in the sector came from products marketed as being sustainable. The data, based on actual sales being rung through the tills, shows that ethical products accounted for 16.6 percent of the market in 2018, up from 14.3 percent in 2013. This amounted to almost $114 billion in sales, up 29 percent from 2013.

Importantly, ‘sustainably’ marketed products grew 5.6 times faster than those that were not.

It is within this emerging consumer landscape that a new startup hopes to thrive — not only in giving customers an ethically produced product to enjoy, but in truly empowering them to make a positive difference because of their purchasing decision.

This October sees the launch of The Other Bar, a new chocolate bar that takes centre stage in a social experiment by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Designed to pioneer a new way of doing business with farmers in the developing world who “typically get a raw deal from western corporations,” the snack gives consumers a simple way to make an active and direct impact on poverty and inequality.

Each bar of chocolate has a digital code, or token. Customers can use the code online to either donate money — which will go directly back to the farmers in Ecuador who produced the cocoa that went into the bar — or use it to get a discount on their next purchase. Each token is worth the equivalent of a quarter of a tree; so, four chocolate bars buys one tree for the farmers to plant, preventing deforestation and increasing the earning potential of the cocoa farmers.

Image credit: The Other Bar

Just 20,000 bars will go on sale in Europe.

The whole idea started when Carlo Ruiz, head of UNDP’s inclusive economic development unit in Ecuador, listened to a podcast about the Fairchain Foundation — an organisation established by Guido van Staveren van Dijk back in 2017 to solve inequalities in commodity production.

Take the coffee industry, for example. Less and less money has stayed in the countries of origin in the last 25 years. While multinationals celebrate profit, the farmers and producers are often reliant on development aid.

“Once I knew the reality of the situation I couldn’t un-know it, and I wanted to build shared value chains, to try and fix what is broken — to undo the last 25 years,” van Staveren van Dijk told Sustainable Brands in a recent interview.

The Fairchain Foundation started experimenting with coffee in Ethiopia. That led to adopting blockchain technology, which led to the podcast that Ruiz heard.

The partnership with UNDP kicked off in October 2018, not necessarily intended as a one-off activity but as part of what van Staveren van Dijk calls a “theory of change: to achieve impact and value-added income at countries of origin.”

The two partners didn’t waste time, and quickly agreed on an objective: to pay more to farmers and produce the chocolate in Ecuador, creating a 50:50 value chain.

As with many a successful sustainability initiative, technology is key to success. Using blockchain technology to create unique codes, The Other Bar is able to deliver income directly to the cocoa farmers in the form of tokens that consumers ‘spend.’ This enables UNDP to support the local farmer associations in Ecuador to buy plants, help plant them, and support with training.

“It’s a performance-based model that delivers quantifiable proof that a plant has been bought, planted, grown and generated money for the farmer. Because everything is on the blockchain, consumers can see this radical transparency in action,” van Staveren van Dijk says proudly.

As the consumer market for truly impactful products continues to build, The Other Bar is a useful experiment — not only in establishing whether there is interest in responsibly sourced ingredients, as marketed on the packaging, but whether it is possible to take the things we buy every day and turn them into catalysts for change.

As van Staveren van Dijk says, The Other Bar is an experiment in how you can influence and change consumer behaviour through quantifiable proof of impact. If this partnership can prove that consumers will buy and be loyal to sustainable products, the hope is that bigger brands will want to use the technology in a similar way, turning their marketing dollars into impact.

As the brains behind this idea will attest, The Other Bar’s targeted group of ‘happy activist’ consumers will engage with the product. The challenge will be in reaching out to a broader market that could be tempted by the ability to interact with the product, and get instant gratification and feedback.

“Conscious consuming will rise and rise,” van Staveren van Dijk added. “The conscious consumer wants to have direct impact. Give them the right tools and good products at fair prices, and why not?”