By Brad Kintzer
“That which is measured, improves.”
Bringing fine chocolate to life is a long and beautifully complex process. Each of us, from cacao producer to chocolate consumer, plays a distinctive role throughout the chocolate value chain, and we all inherently rely on each other. What unites most of us in our fine chocolate community is a shared aspiration to create an elevated quality experience. The complexity of the chocolate journey can be an asset or a stumbling block depending on how we approach it. If our goal is the pursuit and attainment of higher quality chocolate, we need the right tools to collectively measure and improve. Our fine chocolate industry’s success hinges, in large part, on our ability to define, assess, and communicate flavor and quality with each other and others.
Creating international quality standards for cacao and chocolate will provide a multi-dimensional business tool that is broadly beneficial. This system will allow us to collectively measure and improve quality as we grow as an industry. Quality standards will enable cacao producers to better target buyers’ quality criteria and achieve it at the farm level. This calibration can educate producers, traders, makers, and consumers alike, providing a common flavor language and process that can be the foundation of mutually beneficial business relationships. By creating these measures, we invite all partners in the value chain to cultivate a more equitable and efficient future for cocoa and chocolate commerce.
The benefit of a single, industry-wide system for quality and sensory assessment is already well documented in third wave coffee, olive oil, craft beer, and many other analogous industries. When the fledgling specialty coffee industry created and embraced a universal system for quality, and it was applied across their value chain, it transformed the coffee world. Its development and adoption didn’t happen overnight, but it is credited as being one of the most important innovations and developments in the specialty coffee industry (a now estimated $20B+ industry). The ability for farmers, traders, roasters, and even super consumers to be able to debate and assess flavor within the structure of a standardized sensory and quality system continues to be key to specialty coffee’s global success.
To that end, FCIA and several member companies have been supporting and driving efforts to develop international quality standards for cocoa for many years. You may have heard that within the last five years, FCIA and others have been helping lead an international working group focused on researching, writing, and vetting a broad set of robust cacao quality protocols. Coordinated by The Alliance of Biodiversity International and CIAT with support from Lutheran World Relief, the USDA and others, we are in the final stretch of development of 9+ protocols and are currently looking for feedback. Please check the protocols out here! FCIA organized a webinar for FCIA members in June 2020 to review the protocols that many company members attended. We are now moving to a very important phase of reaching out to a wide range of stakeholders and plan to field-test the applicability in the coming months. There will be adjustments and refinements to the system, based on local conditions. This is an inclusive process.
Formalizing a system of international standards holds the promise to transcend chocolate’s innately complex barriers, and to create more efficient ways to better appreciate and improve fine chocolate. We at FCIA invite you to be part of this historic chocolate moment and share your perspectives -- our collective knowledge of chocolate is as varied, unique, and appreciated as its future flavor possibilities.
FCIA Board President
Chief Chocolate Maker, TCHO
For more information on how you can directly be involved and updated, please reach out to me, John Kehoe or FCIA staff.