Amy Guittard’s great-great-grandfather founded Guittard Chocolate Company in 1868.
“He came [to the US] from France looking for gold, and he brought chocolate from his uncle’s chocolate factory to trade for mining supplies. He realised, once he got to San Francisco, that we was able to make more money making provisions than he would mining for gold.
“So he went back to France, learned how to make chocolate, and returned to San Francisco with all the equipment to set up shop,” explained Amy, who heads up marketing at the 151-year-old company.
Today, Guittard is making strides to ensure its cocoa is sourced ethically from transparent, sustainable supply chains around the world.
FoodNavigator caught up with Amy at a chocolate tasting event this morning in London, to discuss Guittard’s recent investments in ‘on the ground’ initiatives across Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Indonesia.
Philosophy and ‘the evolution of artistry’
Guittard’s philosophy lies in “letting the beans sing”, or more specifically, “letting the beans tell us how they like to be roasted and treated,” the director of marketing told industry representatives at the private event.
This, she said, allows the chocolate maker to design a palette of flavours that pastry chefs and confectioners can use in a variety of applications.
“One of the things we really believe is the evolution of artistry, whereby what the farmers do on their farms – cultivating, fermenting and drying cocoa – [is] bestowed on the beans.
“It’s our job to honour that art and make a chocolate the holds greater than a sum of its parts,” said Amy.
Today, this comes hand in hand with ensuring a sustainable cocoa supply chain.
“We believe in the ethics of the chocolate we make and really try to pursue the flavour in its purest form,” she said.
However, proving sustainable practices – through certification or other means – is a constantly evolving practice.
“The topic of sustainability and sourcing practices can get very complex. There are many different ways to source, some say direct is best [for example]. We do everything: we source direct, we work with traders, farmers and cooperatives. We work with research institutes from local governments to promote flavour, we have helped set up flavour labs, and were one of the first companies to have a Fairtrade certified product.”
“Right now, certification is really important,” she continued, suggesting that this form of validation could be but a passing trend. “But some companies are moving away from [third party] certification into their own programme work on the ground, which we [also] have.”
Education: ‘Most cocoa farmers have not tasted the chocolate made from their beans’
Guittard’s most recent rollout of sustainability initiatives cover cocoa growing areas in Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Indonesia.
In Ghana, for example, the company helped train a cocoa sensory panel at the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) in an effort to identify and preserve the chocolate flavour of Ghanaian cocoa.
This has allowed CRIG to train ‘field officers’ who are now able to help train cocoa farmers on the best on-farm practices.
According to the chocolate company, most cocoa farmers have not tasted the chocolate made from their beans. Nor are many farmers able to correlate the taste of well – or poorly – harvested, fermented, dried and stored beans with taste profiles in chocolate.
This initiative will see the trained ‘field officers’ take samples of well fermented, under fermented and over fermented chocolate to farmers to taste.
“That way, [the farmers] know that if they don’t ferment properly, this is what the end product tastes like,” explained Amy. “We do trainings in the field and try to do it with actual [finished] products, so not only can they taste the chocolate, but understand the difference and [correlation with farming techniques],” she added.
In Ivory Coast, the company has set up a similar lab and training programme at the Centre National de Recherche Agronomique (CNRA), and in 2017, Guittard partnered with the Indonesia Coffee Cocoa Research Institute (ICCRI), Swisscontact, and the Millennium Challenge Account to install a flavour lab in Indonesia.
Research: Alternative income-generating activities for female farmers
Although still in development, Amy revealed the company is working on research project with US-based NGO Sustainable Food Lab, which aims to produce a baseline study on living incomes within the cocoa growing regions of Ghana.
As cocoa has two primary cultivation periods a year – a mid crop and a main crop – growers are prone to ‘income gaps’, she told FoodNavigator.
“[We are] also looking at alternative income generating activities, particularly within women’s groups. You may have a female cocoa farmer whose husband runs the land, but she is also taking care of the kids, so how can she have an income generating activity [in between the two cultivation periods]?
“Whether it’s soap [production] or [cultivating] yams, you are looking at a long-term activity vs mid-term and short-term, and trying to figure out what that could look like. So we’re partnering with US-based NGO Sustainable Food Lab to undergo a study.
“[Guittard is also] talking to women cocoa farmers and looking at [how they can] fill a market need.”
On the consumer side: ‘People eat less chocolate, but better quality chocolate’
For UK chocolatier Paul A. Young, who offered delegates a manufacturer’s perspective at the event, the push for increased sustainability and transparency is increasingly heard from the consumer.
“We are hitting up a bit of a food revolution,” he told delegates. “People are wanting to grow more, buy more intelligently, eat less or better quality meat and fish, and eat less chocolate – but butter quality chocolate.”
“Sustainability is the big [trend] right now. [My customers] want to know where the beans are from, who grew them, is there child labour involved, how they get to Guittard, what is the pricing like?”
However, the Guittard brand ambassador also questioned whether shoppers are willing to pay a premium price for sustainability-assured chocolate.
“That’s what it comes down to. Will they spend more money on it so that the growers get more money?
“And do they understand the journey, from opening the bar of chocolate right back to me, to Amy, to the grower? I don’t think we are there yet.”