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More than just chocolate

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“Aired in 2003, the television programme investigated the origins of raw ingredients used in food products,” explains ‘Beancounter’ (Finance Director) Freek Wessels. “The results were shocking. The situation in cocoa farming in West Africa was particularly dreadful. Slavery was rife and children were being forced to work on plantations. The founder of Tony's Chocolonely, Maurice Dekkers, decided something had to change; he wanted to show that chocolate can also be produced in an ethical way, and thus the company was born.”

Today, Tony's Chocolonely has direct contact with around 7,000 cocoa growers, who belong to farming cooperatives in Ghana and the Ivory Coast, where the worst labour problems were identified.

“Generally, we buy our raw materials direct from the farmers,” says Mr. Wessels. “However, in Ghana you have to buy the products via the government. The problem is, the government does not pay plantation owners a living wage for their produce and, as a result, child labour and slavery prevail. With the help of an institute, we calculated what the true price of cocoa should, and thus we pay our suppliers a premium of 25% over what they receive from the government. They can make an income above poverty lines because of this premium, and in this way, we’ve set an important precondition against the use of children or slaves on cocoa plantations. Our raw materials are 100% traceable to the coops and farmers we work with.” This traceability allows us to take direct responsibility for the labor conditions of the farmers we work with.

The raw materials are delivered to Belgium, where selected manufacturers produce the chocolate in accordance with Tony's Chocolonely's own recipes; made in bars of 50 and 180 g, they are packaged in highly colourful wrappers. The combination of quality chocolate, eye-catching packaging and the company story has led to Tony's Chocolonely becoming the market leader in chocolate in the Netherlands with a 20% market share.

With a branch already established in the US, the company has now set its sights on opening another in the UK next year. In Germany, it already sells its products via trading partners.

“We have one mission, which is based on three pillars,” underlines Mr. Wessels. “The first is awareness; we tell consumers our story mainly through storytelling but also for example a by the documentary we have made, a company book and photo exhibitions. Secondly, we aim to set an example for other chocolate producers and show that quality chocolate can be made ethically. Ethics alone is not enough; a company must also be economically successful. We have a good business model which generates a small but decent profit. Our employees are proud to work for Tony's Chocolonely, and we in turn do a lot to ensure they want to remain with us. Good, experienced and motivated staff are essential.”

The third pillar is about ‘inspiring others’ to follow our sourcing model. The third pillar stretches from inviting competitors in the market to tap into our principle-based-sourcing-system to retail customers that ask us to source their white label cocoa.

With little potential for growth left in the Dutch market, the US, UK and Germany are the next areas of focus for Tony's Chocolonely; in the more distant future, Scandinavia and France are also potential targets. The company aims to maintain its annual growth rate of 50% as well.

Ultimately though, Tony's Chocolonely has just one mission and one goal: making 100% slave-free the norm in the chocolate industry. “We want to abolish child labour and slavery, and we are convinced we can achieve this through our work,” concludes Mr. Wessels.

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