Chocolate and Love couple Richard O’Connor and Birgitte Hovmand take a family portrait with their daughter Sophia at the Fundopo co-operative’s cocoa drying tunnel in The Dominican Republic
A love story turned passion project, this is an article about relationships. We see how a young couple have strived to build an ethical business founded on love. Chocolate and Love is a growing family business that supports equitable trade relationships for the purpose of driving social change from crop to consumer in the world of chocolate.
With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, one can easily recognise it as a purely commercial endeavour that commodifies love. Healthy scepticism aside, there is increasing recognition of commerce as a touchpoint for driving social change. And why not, after all, found a business on such a simple universal principle as love? This is what Richard O'Connor and Birgitte Hovmand set out to do a decade ago when their romantic courtship began. Leaving behind corporate jobs as a chartered surveyor and lawyer respectively, the couple followed their passion for chocolate and an earnest desire to develop a product they could feel good about. And so, they set to work on what is now their ethical organic chocolate brand, Chocolate and Love.
Richard and Birgitte have all the makings of a power couple. Traditionally, the term describes an archetypal romantic pair that not only have a life together but also a business. And the essence of what has emerged from this business team is far more upbeat than a Shakespearian story of star-crossed lovers. In an effort to harness the power of ethical business, the couple chose to tackle some rather entrenched economic disparities. It was with this established backdrop that they set about building their brand.
Many an evening of tasting recipes resulted in a delicious blend of high percentage cocoa and low sugar chocolate. All the while, revising their organic chocolates to perfection with the conscientious consumer in mind. Taking any product to market can be both exhilarating and arduous. Yet there always remained a desire to do good at every available opportunity. The couple took care to ensure that their lovingly hand-painted packaging is printed on FSC certified paper and that the inside wrapper is fully compostable, made with wood pulp. They also partnered with an organisation called WeForest to plant trees. This, in an attempt to offset the company's carbon footprint. To date, over 28,000 trees have been planted.
In growing an ethical business, there are many considerations. The goal of minimizing negative effects on the environment is not an explicitly charitable purpose. One is never quite done. And the question of the socio-economic impact is an ongoing labour of love. For example buying Fairtrade certified cacao beans improves the quality of life of smallholders in each country of origin.
The cacao beans used in the Chocolate and Love brand are sourced directly from Fairtrade certified co-operatives in Panama, Peru, The Dominican Republic and Madagascar. In The Dominican Republic, for example, the co-operative Fundopo comprises of over 1300 small-scale cacao farmers. The cocoa beans must be harvested at the right time, then skilfully fermented and dried immediately after fermentation. The several-day fermentation process breaks down the bitter and astringent flavours and develops the delicate cocoa and fruity aromas.
The farmers in this region could do to improve the yields during the harvest, fermentation and drying
process. Chocolate and Love's sourcing partner therefore invested a very large amount to develop and improve the fermentation, drying and packing facilities of three locations in The Dominican Republic. Thanks to many years of experience and a close relationship with the farmers, Chocolate and Love’s sourcing partner is able to guarantee the quality of the on-site processing operations and make direct improvements through skills development and training.
On the back of this intervention, production rose by well over 30% and is expected to continue to improve. In this specific location there are two Swiss expats working diligently to improve conditions. With a local staff compliment of 30 personnel, this partner organisation was formed to maintain a stable local enterprise as link for long term partnerships between farmers and buyers, granting full traceability.
It is very important to Chocolate and Love that the cacao farmers receive a fair price for their cocoa beans. The price is significantly higher than for non-certified products. A minimum price that is agreed on a long-term basis ensures a guaranteed and measurable improvement to the average level of income. Over and above the Fairtrade minimum price, the Fairtrade Premium is an additional sum of money which goes into a communal fund for workers and farmers to use as they see fit. Typically this fund is re-invested into the community to improve social, economic and environmental conditions locally.
With regards to the Fundopo Fairtrade Premium, 42% is handed over to the local groups to invest into community projects such as the purchase of materials for facilities, ensuring a potable water supply and the construction of community roads. Another 42% goes directly to the farmers with their written commitment to use the premium for improvements of their cacao plantations and 16% is put aside for the administration of the small farmer organization.
After ten years devoted to a labour of love, Richard and Birgitte are happy to have their ethical organic chocolate range stocked across 35 countries worldwide. A family-run business, they are continuing to create award-winning chocolate bars that encapsulate everything they are about: flavour, organic quality, the environment and consideration for the people producing the ingredients. Together, they have created a tasteful experience from start to finish. A range of chocolate that not only looks good and tastes good but also does good.