Monday, March 11, 2013

Certified Organic and Fair Trade Chocolate Bars: From trend to market segment

See a list of organic and fair trade chocolate bar brands here.

A chocolate bar is not just a chocolate bar anymore. It is many things to many people: a pleasure for some and a pain for others, a junk food or a health food, a superfood or a food that can spike a person's blood sugar in unwanted ways. 

Chocolate now fits into more categories than just white, milk, semi-sweet and unsweetened. Now you can choose chocolate with nearly any percentage of cocoa solids, including very high-percentage milk chocolate or 90% extra dark chocolate.

But you can still go beyond the percentages and choose chocolate that fits with your preferences, lifestyle and beliefs, including chocolate that is:
  • single origin or mixed origin
  • stone ground or 72-hour conche for smoother chocolate
  • roasted or raw
  • fair trade or under-priced and made with slave labour
  • organic and shade-grown versus pesticide ridden
  • natural and made with real cacao or cocoa powder mixed with hydrogenated oil and labelled a 'candy'
As a result of all this categorization, the chocolate industry has changed rapidly in the last 10 years, particularly in North America.  More and more products have hit the store shelves, with a huge range of chocolate bars fitting into each category mentioned above.  No longer is a 'candy bar', like Hershey's milk chocolate bar or a Mars bar, the only choice to get your chocolate fix. You can take a stand, support a cause and choose a side while satisfying your sweet tooth.

One type of chocolate bar that has grown in popularity over time is the 'Organic and Fair Trade' chocolate bar.  Although these appear to be two separate categories, most brands have lumped them into one super-guilt-free treat.

Green & Black's Organic founders, Craig Sams and Josephine Fairly, could arguably be the ones that started the organic and Fair Trade chocolate movement when they began buying Fairtrade cocoa from Maya farmers in Belize in 1994 and were awarded the U.K.'s first Fairtrade mark (ref: Wikipedia).  Green & Black's eventually brought this trend to North America with Green & Black's U.S.A. and a manufacturing operation in Canada. It is now owned by Kraft Foods, and their chocolate is still certified organic and Fair Trade.

Many others have helped to shape this trend and to turn it into a full-fledged market segment. And in fact, they have improved on its original business model.  In Canada,  La-Siembra Co-operative established in 1999 and began developing a recipe for organic chocolate and guidelines for a Fair Trade Foundation (ref). This eventually lead to the launch of the Camino brand (originally Cocoa Camino) of chocolate bars, which are now available in both large and small retailers all across Canada. They not only sell chocolate that is Fair Trade, but also certified organic.

I remember when I first spotted a Camino chocolate bar in Ottawa at a cafe chain that focused on serving and selling Fair Trade and Organic products, so naturally they supported Camino's chocolate bars. I also recall the difference in price compared to more commercially available 100 gram chocolate bars, like Lindt Excellence.  Nearly $5 (Cdn) for a chocolate bar seemed insane to a woman in her mid-twenties who had barely paid off her student debts.  But upon tasting the chocolate, and reading the story behind it, I understood why I was paying a premium price.

The company not only brought gourmet flavours (like 67% Mint Crisp and Espresso Dark Chocolate) to a Canadian industry that had long been saturated with sugary chocolate 'candy', they told us the story of the farmers, displaying pictures of them inside the chocolate bar wrappings and on their website, to help the consumer understand the supply chain and why the prices were higher than we were accustomed to.

And each year since, I see this section of the market growing.  Gourmet food stores and health food stores now regularly stock a range of Organic and Fair Trade chocolate bars.  And every few months I see a new brand being added to the shelves of stores like Bulk Barn, that sit alongside Camino's and Green & Black's 100 gram chocolate bars. And I am continually surprised at how similar these products are to each other, in their flavour range and purpose.  In fact, many in this category now offer a Dark Mint bar with "mint crisps" in it like Camino's bar (Alter Eco and Equal Exchange brands, for instance).

Some of the newer chocolate bars entering this market segment are only certified as Fair Trade, some are listed as Organic only, and some are both.  Others are simply 'Rainforest Alliance Certified' (like the Bissinger's brand of Missouri).  And although each brand has a key feature that they focus on, like the origin of where the cocoa beans are sourced from, they are all competing for the same space.
And what I find more interesting, from an industry perspective and the perspective of someone with a degree in business marketing, is that Fair Trade and Organic chocolate was once (not that long ago) the gourmet, premium-priced segment of the market.  However, in very recent years that segment is becoming middle-of-the-road, with a price ranging from $2.99 to $5.99 per 100 gram chocolate bar.  Consumers have become accustomed to those prices and no longer see the cost as unfavourable. In fact, the new gourmet and premium-priced segment of 2013 is the growing craft bean-to-bar, single origin-sourced chocolate bar segment, where the price begins at $5 for only 50 grams of chocolate and can be as high as $20 for an 80- or 100-gram chocolate bar.  And unlike many of the original Fair Trade/Organic chocolate bar brands, these bars are made in-house and from the bean by the company that is marketing it. 

In fact, some say that direct trade is far superior to Fair Trade because the craft chocolate maker visits the farm, builds relationships with the farmers and buys beans directly from the farm (ref). This way, the farmer is being paid a fair price and they do not have to pay annual fees to be Fair Trade Certified, so they can invest more money into their farm, better quality trees and beans and in their workers (i.e. so less chance of child slave labour being used).  Dandelion Small-Batch Chocolate sells chocolate that is an example of direct trade with their 70% Ambanja Madagascar chocolate bar. According to, "The beans originate from the Akesson farm in Madagascar that Dandelion visited at the end of last year. " (ref) The price is normally $7.95 Cdn for 2 ounces (56 grams) on; so you can see the price difference compared to the certified Fair Trade chocolate bars (e.g. Green & Blacks).

So in summary, the Organic and Fair Trade chocolate movement has turned from a simple chocolate bar trend to a fully competitive market segment. And the price may have started out as premium, but has moved to a middle-of-the-road position, falling below the high prices of directly traded bean-to-bar, craft and origin chocolate.

In addition, I do not believe it is completely saturated yet, but it is certainly heading in that direction. Not only are co-operatives and socially responsible chocolate companies competing head-on, but more and more big-name brands are adding Organic and Fair Trade chocolate bars to their product range, as are small craft producers who have not normally made chocolate from organic beans.  But all this competition is great for consumers who feel that supporting Organic and Fair trade is important, because now, as opposed to 10 years ago, consumers have a lot of chocolate choice.

For a listing of Organic and Fair Trade Chocolate bars that compete in this segment in North America, click here.

Other references on this topic:


  1. This is a pretty fantastic analysis of fair trade bars in Canada.

    You noted that the fair trade is pretty competitive now. But, how do you feel about these bars' ability to compete with non-fair trade bars?

    1. Hi! In terms of chocolate bars that are similar in size (80-100 grams) and close in price, like Lindt Excellence, Godiva 70% and 85%, etc., I think the flavour of the chocolate is often better in the fair trade/organic chocolate bars. In most cases, the Fair Trade/Organic chocolate makers are using trinitario beans (I've asked directly many times), not as much of the Forasterro beans that are used by the more commercial brands. They also use less and real vanilla, so the taste is not overshadowed by vanilla extract or artificial vanillin. That may be a personal preference in terms of taste though!
      Also, a current food trend is to choose all-natural products with no artificial flavours or colours. And by choosing 'organic' you can usually ensure that the chocolate will be more natural, so competitively this is good for the Organic/Fair Trade producers!

  2. I love chocolate. thanks for wonderful post

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