Organic Articles: Eat Chocolate and Save The Planet!

The Organic Consultancy

Eat Chocolate and Save The Planet!
Organic and Fairtrade Products

by Simon Wright

This article is based on a presentation made by Simon Wright to the London 1998 Technology Conference of the Biscuit, Cake, Chocolate & Confectionery Alliance (BCCCA). It subsequently appeared in the May 1998 edition of Chocolate and Confectionery International and is reproduced here by permission of the Editor, whose contact details are

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Organic food and fairtraded foods have existed in many markets for some years, mainly being sold through specialist natural food shops and charity shops. Increasingly consumers wish to know more about the foods they buy: how the ingredients were grown and processed (organic), and whether the farmers who grew the original crops received a reasonable price for their efforts (fairtrade). The last five years have seen these products move into the mainstream and many European supermarkets now stock organic and fairtraded foods. The purpose of this article is to provide an introduction to these two areas from a manufacturers perspective, with special emphasis on the chocolate and confectionery industry.

What is Organic Food?

A common definition might be “food grown without chemicals”. A more technical definition is “the product of a farming system which avoids the use of man-made fertilisers, pesticides, growth regulators and livestock feed additives. Instead the system relies on crop rotation, animal and plant manures, some hand weeding and biological pest control”.

EU legislation was introduced in 1991 as Council Regulation 2092/91 to control the production and description of organic food. In the UK the law was implemented by UKROFS (the United Kingdom Register of Organic Food Standards, now part of MAFF). In turn UKROFS regulates six UK certifying bodies of whom the Soil Association are the biggest and the best known; the others comprise Organic Farmers and Growers, Organic Food Federation, Scottish Organic Producers Association, Bio-Dynamic Agricultural Association and Irish Organic Farmers and Growers. It is the job of the Certifying Bodies to set the standards for organic food production, the law being enforced by Trading Standards Officers.

A similar situation exists elsewhere with major European certifying bodies such as Skal/Eco (Holland), Eco Cert, Natur et Progres and AB (France), Naturland (Germany) and OCIA, FVO, QAI and OGBA (the USA). Only in English speaking markets is the word organic used – elsewhere Bio, Oko or Eco are more familiar.

What is Fairtrade Food?

No legal definition of fairtrade exists. A working definition would be “a guarantee that producers are paid above world price according to criteria laid down by the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation (FLO)”. The FLO currently has fairtrade criteria for cocoa, coffee, tea and sugar. A floor price is set for these commodities and a premium is paid over and above the commercial price so long as world market prices remain above the floor price.

Fairtrade marks such as those used by the Fairtrade Foundation (UK), Transfair (Germany) and Max Havelaar (Holland) exist, but they are voluntary schemes only. To sell cocoa as fairtrade the producing scheme must be on the FLO International Cocoa Register. The qualifying criteria are that the scheme be owned by and accountable to small farmers, that the scheme possess the necessary infrastructure to export produce and that the quality of their produce is appropriate for its intended market.

Market Information

It is estimated that less than 1% of food currently eaten in the UK is organic and of this around 70% is thought to be imported. There is thus considerable scope for growth in the market.

Availability of Key Ingredients

The vast majority of ingredients used by the chocolate and confectionery industries are now available in organic and/or fairtrade versions:

  • Cocoa – mass, powder, butter
  • Sweeteners – granulated sugar, icing sugar, glucose syrups, grain-based syrups, concentrated fruit juices
  • Dairy products – skimmed milk powder, full cream milk powder, butter, pasteurised liquid egg
  • Vegetable fats – palm stearine and olein, coconut oil
  • Flours – wheat, rice, soya, cornstarch
  • Dried nuts – almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, coconut, walnuts in all formats
  • Fruit – unsulphured dried apricots, apple, pineapple, mango, dates and figs plus IQF frozen fruit
  • Other ingredients – essential oils, vanilla, etc

NB Certain processing techniques are specifically prohibited by EU organic legislation. These include irradiation, hydrogenation, fumigation and genetic modification. Alternative approaches are therefore used in the production of organic ingredients.

Manufacturing Procedures

Very few factories exist which are totally dedicated to organic food production, and none exist totally dedicated to fairtrade food production. The key to successful manufacture is the segregation of organic and fairtrade production from the other products manufactured. Physical segregation must extend from goods-in through to finished product in the warehouse whilst the manufacturing control system employed must demonstrate full traceability. Recent developments in good manufacturing practice are very helpful here and in general a well-run manufacturing facility can easily be adapted to organic or fairtrade manufacture.

Certification of every factory producing organic foods is mandatory, and is carried out by an independent inspector appointed by the certifying body. Most factories elect to manufacture organic food as the first production after a full clean-down. This ensures that if any cross-over of product occurs it is from organic to non-organic (acceptable) rather then from non-organic to organic (unacceptable). Similar approaches are taken in the manufacture of fairtraded foods, but here the guidelines are voluntary rather than mandatory.

Product Labelling

EU legislation specifies three categories of organic product:

Organic (Typical Product Title – Organic Chocolate) A minimum of 95% of ingredients by weight organically grown and produced. The remaining non-organic ingredients come from a permitted list and comprise no more than 5% of the product by weight.

Special Emphasis (Typical Product Title – Chocolate made with Organic Cocoa Beans and Organic Sugar) Between 70 and 95% organic ingredients.

Limited Organic Claim (Typical Product Title – Chocolate) Below 70% organic ingredients it is only permitted to refer to the word organic in the ingredients list.

The situation in the USA is that currently organic food is controlled by state legislation rather than by national legislation. However the USDA is currently developing national organic legislation which will be consistent throughout the USA.

Fairtrade labelling is not specified by law. However voluntary agreements exist which specify how a product will qualify for a given fairtrade mark, and how that mark must be displayed.

Future Trends

Currently both organic and fairtrade foods sell at a premium over conventional foods. Partly this is due to the ingredients being more expensive, but it also reflects the relatively modest manufacturing runs of most organic and fairtrade products. As consumer demand increases and production runs become longer efficiencies of scale should result in reduced product costs.

The major supermarket groups throughout Europe are becoming increasingly enthusiastic about these products and examples can now be found in Tesco, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s (UK) as well as in Albert Hejn (Holland) and supermarkets throughout France and Belgium. The situation is slightly different in the USA, where the greater strength of the natural food industry has made it more difficult for supermarkets to enter the market. However this is beginning to change.

Together with this move has been a change from branded products to supermarket own-label and private-label items. Most UK supermarkets now carry organic own-label milk, bread, fruit and vegetables : other product sectors will undoubtedly be added as the organic and fairtrade markets mature. It is likely that this move towards organic and fairtrade own-label products will encourage some of the larger food manufacturers to enter the market.

Case History: Green & Black’s Chocolate

The first Green & Black’s chocolate bar was launched in the UK in 1991 as a 100g moulded bar made from 70% organic cocoa. Success was immediate, with the product moving quickly from natural food stores onto the shelves of major UK supermarkets. An organic milk chocolate bar was followed by the launch of Maya Gold, the first product to be certified as both organic and fairtraded.

Today there is an extensive range of Green & Black’s Organic Chocolate Bars in different flavours and product formats. The products sell strongly through natural food stores, supermarkets and speciality food-stores throughout Europe and the USA. A bulk couverture has been developed to allow The Village Bakery to launch a range of dual-branded Organic Chocolate Almond Cake, Chocolate Brownies, Pain au Chocolat and Florentines. Most recently the Green & Black’s range has been extended to cover Organic Chocolate Ice Cream and an Organic Hot Chocolate Drink and even an Organic Easter Egg, again with great commercial success.

The success of the Green & Black’s brand shows that to be organic or fairtraded alone is not enough. To generate repeat purchases products must taste good, be attractively packaged and presented to consumers in an appropriate and recognisable format. Some price premium is inevitable but as sales increase production costs can be reduced through economies of sale. The success of the Green & Black’s product range indicates strong potential for foods made from organic and fairtraded ingredients.