Fine Food Digest’s Mick Whitworth investigates fair trading in a stuttering economy

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As well as supplying bulk chocolate, HB handles a number of ‘origin retail products’: wrapped bars, processed and packaged at source, meaning the producer enjoys a larger share of the added value. They include the Madecasse range from Madagascar, EI Ceibo from Bolivia (slogan: ‘Our land, Our trees, Our chocolate’) and The Grenada Chocolate Company (GCC), whose bars Chococo, among others, sells alongside its own branded products.

At Rococo in London, founder Chantal Coady, a chocolate maker and retailer since 1983, has gone a step further. In 2007 she became part owner with GCC of a COCOA farm, and Rococo’s house blend now includes some of this raw material. Coady says provenance is increasingly important to consumers, and the Grenada link has become a key element in Rococo’s story.

It’s not the traditional ‘colonial’ approach, she says, where wealthy outsiders buy the house, the farm and all the land on a plantation. “Ours is a 50:50 joint venture and it enables the farmers in Grenada to get a really good price.”

Last month, a London-based hedge fund hit the news when it spent £600m buying nearly 250,000 tonnes of cocoa on the global market, pushing the market price to a 32-year high. Coady says this highlights how vulnerable specialist producers may be if they align themselves with the commodity sector. “It’s really important people have relationships that go further back to the farmers that grow the cocoa. When a hedge fund can buy up all the cocoa in Europe it shows how vulnerable we are.”

With stores in Chelsea, Belgravia and Marylebone, Rococo is part of a vibrant fine chocolates market in the capital. “But there have been casualties in the sector too. The Kshocolat chain went into administration earlier this year, as did London-based Sir Hans Sloane Chocolate Co, which was later bought back by co-founder Bill McCarrick. Another casualty was The Chocolate Society, of which Chantal Coady was once a shareholder.

Coady says further company failures this year are a distinct possibility, especially among those marketing style over substance. “We found an old FT article that said what a marvellous business model Kshocolat had, because everything was outsourced – it didn’t actually make anything. For me, that was a strong message. if you don’t have anything substantial as the basis of your business and don’t have any authenticity, you are at risk.”

Fine Food Digest is the Guild’s voice to all independent delicatessens, farm shops, food halls and speciality food buyers in multiple retailers, cooperatives, symbol groups, cash & carries and speciality food producers.

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