Theo Chocolate warns confectionery industry to avoid ‘greenwashing’

By Douglas Yu

- Last updated on GMT

Theo Chocolate sources the bulk of its cocoa from an unstable region in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Theo Chocolate sources the bulk of its cocoa from an unstable region in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Related tags Supply chain Chocolate Supply chain management

Theo Chocolate says one of the greatest challenges it faces as a company committed to a responsible and transparent supply chain is “greenwashing” in the premium chocolate category.

The Seattle-based chocolate brand says consumers are confused by “meaningless icons and false claims”​ made by competing brands. The situation, according to Theo’s co-founder and chief marketing officer, Debra Music, has escalated since the launch of Theo, and it seems to grow “ever-increasingly noisy”.

Greenwashing: blurring the line between marketing and verifications

Greenwashing is when a brand misleads consumers to believe their products are cleaner, eco-friendlier or better for the livelihoods of those along the supply chain than they actually are, Music told ConfectioneryNews.

“There are companies using words like ‘natural’ which is meaningless, and unregulated terms like ‘beyond fair trade’ without certification, and there are brands that put their own creative icons on packaging and marketing materials to mimic legitimate third party certifications,”​ she pointed out.

It is difficult for consumers to decide if a product has meaningful added value when the line between marketing and third-party verifications blurred, Music said.

Social purpose should not be an ‘add-on’

“Greenwashing”​ in the premium chocolate category, Music said, has posed a major challenge to her company.

“We do our best to rise above the clamor through our educational efforts, impact initiatives, and by staying true to our own ethos and principles,”​ she said.

For example, Music pointed out that too many companies view social purpose as an “add-on”​ in order to chase consumer interest, as consumers demand greater authenticity in the brands they purchase.

This site previously reported that the growth of fair trade awareness​ is being driven not only by the traditional sustainability-minded consumers, but also by a growing population of Millennials and mainstream shoppers, according to VP of communication at Fair Trade USA, Sandra Stumbaugh.

However, Music said, “this approach will not suffice.”

“For companies interested in combining business with purpose, having a business model that intrinsically supports the fundamental values the company espouses is the path to success.”

Flavanol-rich clusters line

theo clusters
Photo: Theo

Theo Chocolate recently launched a new high flavanol cocoa chocolate clusters line​ that it says “represents new and innovative direction”​ for the brand. Theo is now ranked third in the natural and organic chocolate category in the US, according to Music. It has also experienced double-digit growth every year since Theo started in 2006.

Making cocoa supply chains stable

Theo Chocolate sources the majority of its cocoa from the Democratic Republic of Congo, which it claims shows it is committed to sourcing from a difficult region where farmers need its support.

“Around 70% of Theo’s cocoa supply now comes from the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, an unstable region, which results in a very high-risk supply chain,”​ said Music. “As demand for our products grows, the need for consistent, high quality supply is imperative.”

“The way we deal with this as a business is baked into our business model. From the beginning we have invested in our farmer partners, providing education, resources and premium incentives based on quality. As our farmers improve quality and yields and earn more, the quality of Theo’s cocoa supply becomes more stable, and farmers are increasingly committed to cocoa as a regular source of income, despite the other uncertainties they face.”

Theo’s strategic priorities will continue to be investment in its supply chain to scale business growth, Music said.

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