Green & Black’s is launching its first UK chocolate bar that is neither organic nor Fairtrade-certified.
The move by the organic chocolate maker – owned by US food giant Mondelēz International, parent of Cadbury – is likely to further undermine the Fairtrade movement amid concerns about a proliferation of rival alternatives.
Founded in 1991 as a pioneering organic brand, Green & Black’s is famous for its Classic bars, which have “organic” displayed prominently on wrappers under the company’s logo. But the new Velvet Edition dark chocolate bars going on sale in UK supermarkets this month makes no claim to be organic.
The Fairtrade logo has also been ditched as the cocoa beans for the range have been sourced via a certification scheme called Cocoa Life, set up by Mondelēz. The US confectionery giant says Cocoa Life will be a “world-leading” alternative with the scale and clout to help more struggling farmers growing cocoa in developing countries.
The familiar blue and green Fairtrade mark – a gold standard of ethical trading and arguably the world’s most trusted food certification scheme – is also being removed from Cadbury’s Dairy Milk range this month. By 2019, Cadbury’s entire chocolate range in the UK and Ireland – including Flake, Twirl and Wispa – will display the Cocoa Life branding. Green & Black’s Classic range will be expanded and relaunched next year, but will remain both Fairtrade-certified and organic, made from cocoa beans from the Dominican Republic.
Some 1.65 million farmers and workers in more than 74 developing countries benefit from the Fairtrade system, which guarantees decent working conditions and a minimum price. In the UK it is administered by The Fairtrade Foundation – an independent certification body that licenses the use of the ethical label on 5,000-plus products, from coffee and tea to bananas and flowers.
Recently, the UK’s biggest Fairtrade retailer, Sainsbury’s, came under fire from charities and ethical campaigners for dropping the Fairtrade label on its own-brand tea.
Green & Black’s was founded by Craig Sams and Josephine Fairley in their west London flat. Its best-selling Maya Gold bar received the UK’s first Fairtrade mark in March 1994. The brand was bought in 2005 for an estimated £20m by Cadbury, which was later acquired by Mondelēz (formerly Kraft Foods) in 2010.
Sams and Fairley, retained by Mondelēz as paid consultants, said “supply chain issues” meant it was not possible to source a sufficiently large volume of cocoa beans – from Ghana in west Africa – for the new range. Velvet Edition is aimed at consumers who find the flavour of traditional dark chocolate too rich.
Sams denied the move spelled the death knell for Fairtrade, saying Cocoa Life was “Fairtrade with knobs and whistles on”. He also pointed out that Fairtrade was a partner in Cocoa Life.
But Rachel Wilshaw, ethical trade manager for Oxfam GB, warned: “There is a risk of shoppers being left confused as some brands and retailers move away from the Fairtrade scheme to introduce their own certification schemes. With the Fairtrade mark on products, consumers are clear about what they are getting.”
Brad Hill, Fairtrade strategy manager at the Co-op, added: “As a customer-facing business we have concerns around the introduction of yet more ethical schemes which will easily be confused with Fairtrade and the benefits Fairtrade has delivered.”
In 2009, Cadbury announced its Dairy Milk brand would be made from Fairtrade cocoa. But last November, it said it would be rolling out the Cocoa Life scheme across the entire Cadbury range.
Mondelēz claimed the $400m (£302m) scheme was already helping 200,000 cocoa farmers and would be extended to one million people in six key cocoa-growing countries by 2022. Independent verification showed that farmers’ incomes had increased by 49% under Cocoa Life compared with farms not in the scheme, Mondelēz added.
Glenn Caton, northern Europe president at Mondelēz, insisted the company was sticking to Green & Black’s founding principles. “Great taste, high quality and a commitment to sustainability – we will never compromise on those promises, and remain loyal to the brand’s heritage,” he said.