Mental Post-Its

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Buying Safe Chocolate

I’ve become a little obsessed lately with finding chocolate that is safe to buy…meaning no slave labor was used to create it. If you are new to the chocolate controversy, you can read more about it at the CNN Freedom Project. Luckily, more and more companies are cleaning up their acts. But until you know for sure, it’s good to do your homework.

I know that fair trade items are good options, as are many organic items, but outside of that I wasn’t sure. And I was especially concerned with store brands since they are less expensive and becoming more prevalent. Chocolate bars are easy enough to find, but baking chocolate, chocolate chips and other forms are much more difficult to locate in organic or fair trade form.

So, I decided to check in with the four places I typically buy groceries, including my beloved cocoa-flavored treats. And here’s what they had to say:

PUBLIX

Dear Ms. Porter,

Thank you for taking the time to share your experience with us. We regret that we have failed to meet your expectations. We would never knowingly disappoint our customers. We appreciate the trust you have placed in us to rectify the situation.

Our current supplier is ADM.  However, we will be moving to a new supplier very shortly.  The new supplier is Barry Callebaut. No cocoa beans are grown domestically. Cocoa comes from a variety of warm climates including parts of Africa and Mexico. Neither our current or incoming suppliers exploit their workers.

Our chips are not organic and neither are they Fair Trade. Fair Trade is an organization that promote fair treatment for the farm workers in underdeveloped countries. Our supplier promotes their own community with the farmers who supply their beans much like Fair Trade.

Barry Callabaut has a number of programs which they could speak about more fully than we can. They have local representatives who visit the farms personally and check on the welfare of the workers. The Publix bakery also uses Barry Callabaut.

If we may be of further assistance in this matter, please do not hesitate to contact our customer care specialist at 1-800-242-1227. You may also contact us via email at http://www.publix.com/contact or write us at Publix Super Markets, Inc., P.O. Box 407, Lakeland, FL 33802, ATTN: Customer Care. Please be sure to reference your case identification number noted above. We look forward to serving and meeting all your future needs.

Sincerely, Tainia in Customer Care

KROGER

Our stores offer more than two dozen Fair Trade Certified products, including different varieties of coffee, tea and chocolate. These products are usually found in our natural food departments and nutrition centers, depending on the store.

We first brought Fair Trade products to our stores in 2000, and we continue to search for certified products that are of interest to our customers. Though there are limited suppliers of these products, our buyers work with both large and small companies to ensure the best selection possible.

Fair Trade is an approach to sustainable development that can help family farmers in developing nations gain better access to international markets. Proponents of Fair Trade believe that farmers who learn how to market their own harvests are in a better position to build their own businesses and earn a fair price for their products. This, in turn, may lead to higher family living standards, stronger communities and more sustainable farming practices in developing countries. A Fair Trade Certified label on a product serves as a guarantee that the item has been grown and produced by farmers and workers who received what is considered by the certifying organization to be a fair price for that product.

Most coffee, tea and chocolate in the U.S. that is Fair Trade Certified also is certified to be organic and shade-grown. This means that the products are grown under conditions designed to support biodiversity, provide shelter for migratory birds and help reduce global warming.

Sincerely,
Christie Metropulos
Consumer Affairs

TARGET

Dear Kristi Porter,

Thanks for taking the time to ask us about our Archer Farms Chocolates.

Our Archer Farms chocolates are a Target brand. Since the products are owned by Target, you can be sure that they live up to the high-quality standards you expect from us. 

Helping to ensure the health and safety of guests and their families is our number one priority at Target. We recognize that Country of Origin labeling is important to our guests. Our buyers purchase food products from a variety of different vendors, who are required to comply with all United States labeling regulations, established by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Target also requires its vendors to comply with all U.S. Customs, North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) requirements.

While we do appreciate your interest and welcome your additional questions, I’ve let you know all the information that’s available to us. I’ll be sure to make your comments available to our Grocery team for review.

We look forward to showing you what’s new at Target.

Sincerely,

Thelma, Target Guest Relations

TRADER JOE’S

Dear Kristi,

Thank you so much for contacting us – we love hearing from our customers.  Unfortunately, we cannot say exactly where a chocolate product is sourced without a product name or SKU #, as we source from so many different suppliers.  That said, the majority of the chocolate we sell (and in the world) will ultimately come from either Africa (Tanzania, the Ivory Coast, etc.) or Colombia.

That said, the following are our thoughts related to the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010 (SB 657) and work done to address risks of human trafficking and slavery:

We have great concern for the rights of all who work to provide products sold in our stores. We address such matters in our agreements with our suppliers; in fact, the code of conduct in our agreements requires that our suppliers:

“…represent and warrant that the goods sold to TJ’s were produced, harvested, manufactured, processed, packaged, labeled, transported, delivered, and sold in compliance with all applicable federal, state, and local laws and regulations of the United States of America and all of its subdivisions and, if applicable, the laws of any other country, state, or international governing body… that the goods sold to TJ’s were not produced, harvested, manufactured, processed, packaged, labeled, transported, or delivered using forced or prison labor or forced or illegal child labor.”

We monitor compliance with our agreement through scheduled and unannounced visits and audits of our suppliers’ facilities, using our own crew members and third-party groups.  If any of our suppliers are found to be not in compliance with our agreement, we will terminate the relationship.

We hope this helps clarify things!

Best regards,
Rachel
Customer Relations
Trader Joe’s

WHOLE FOODS

Hello Kristi,

Thanks for contacting Whole Foods Market. The cacao for the 365 Organic Chocolate Bars comes from several small cooperatives in Peru. After careful evaluation of several chocolate manufacturers, we decided to switch because we had more transparency in the supply chain. The company we are now working with is one of the few bean to bar manufacturers left in the world. This means that they source their own cacao and make their own liquid chocolate before manufacturing the bars and that our bars are manufactured specifically for us.

About 30 years ago, the owner of the facility realized that he would be pushed out of the business by larger corporations if he did not look for a more secure supply of cacao in some place other than West Africa. He traveled to South America and in Peru found a group of people that were willing to work with him based on organic and fair trade principles. At Whole Foods Market, we are highly selective about what we sell, dedicated to strict product quality standards, and committed to supporting environmentally friendly agricultural and production methods. This includes our commitment to sourcing cocoa from responsible and reputable sources.

The bakery items are produced regionally, so the chocolate used by our bakeries varies from region to region. The Team Members at your local store may be able to provide more information about the chocolate used in the baked goods in that location, or put you in touch with the Regional Bakery Coordinator.

If you have any further questions please use our on-line response form.

Best regards,
Carijane Grigsby-Etter
Global Customer Information Specialist | Whole Foods Market

Overall, it was kind of a mixed bag of I received from these customer service teams. Kroger and Target skirted the issue a bit, but at least I got a response. I will not buy their store brand chocolate products. And overall, I feel better and more informed about my purchases in each of these five stores now. I’ll definitely ask my local Whole Foods about their chocolate when I’m there next as well.

Just wanted to make sure you were informed, too! Chocolate is one of the world’s greatest treasures, so let’s make sure everyone can enjoy it from harvest to happy bellies!