Most chocolate is a guilty pleasure, but we found a chocolate brand that promotes healthy snacking, fair trade, and diverse supply chains. No empty calories there!
Did you know you can claim chocolate as your favorite fruit? Okay, technically cacao is the fruit, and most chocolate these days is admittedly more sugar than cacao. But Five North Chocolate is doing its level-best to buck that trend.
Five North Chocolate has its origins in a project for a college entrepreneurship class. Then in his senior year at SUNY Geneseo, Ben Conard hatched the idea for a healthy candy company. “I wanted to take the guilt out of our everyday favorite treats because they’re always associated with guilt—on both the health side and often in the supply chain,” Ben said.
Ben started by experimenting with hard candies, and by his own estimation, the early prototypes “weren’t great.” Eventually he settled on responsibly sourced chocolate, and four years later, it’s hard to imagine a product better suited for the Five North approach to doing good.
“West Africa is home to most of the farmers that are impoverished because of the way we’ve supplied chocolate”
It sounds suspiciously simple, but everything Five North Chocolate stands for begins with a great product. Unlike the waxy stuff you find in the convenience store or the holiday candy bowl, the first ingredient in the highest quality chocolate is cacao—a fruit with a variety of known health benefits.
For instance, did you know that cacao offers more iron than spinach, more calcium than cow’s milk, and more antioxidants than blueberries?
That’s truly the stuff of guilt-free snacking, but Ben wasn’t content to stop there.
Focusing on the Origin Story
Like many other socially conscious founders, he turned his attention to doing good from the very start of his supply chain. As a signal of that commitment, Ben reflected the place of origin right in the brand name—a reference to West Africa, which is five degrees north of the equator and where more than two-thirds of the world’s cacao is grown.
“Since the main focus was honoring this fruit, I wanted it to signal to people what it means to the world,” Ben said. “Most of the world’s cacao comes from West Africa. West Africa is home to millions of farmers who are responsible for most of that chocolate we consume. It’s also home to most of the farmers that are impoverished because of the way we’ve supplied chocolate.”
Rather than exploiting farmers to boost profits, fair trade companies like Five North Chocolate seek to ensure that farmers earn a living wage and have a voice in key decisions such as working conditions and investing community development funds.
Fair trade standards also account for the environmental impact of the harvest process—excluding harmful chemicals and practices to sustain the planet and the workers and communities whose livelihoods depend on its health.
Barring a sudden sea change in the confectionery manufacturing landscape, Five North Chocolate and its Fair Trade Certified allies are not going to overturn entrenched inequities overnight. But we’d be imprudent to underestimate the power of great chocolate. In addition to countering the inequality often baked into the chocolate supply chain abroad, Five North is also trying to address issues around diversity and inclusion stateside.
Fostering Conversations on Diversity
In January 2019, Five North Chocolate became the first consumer brand to feature the Certified LGBT Business Enterprise seal on the packaging for all its products. The seal certifies U.S. brands that are at least 51% LGBT-owned and operated. For Ben, it was more than just a personal statement.
“It was kind of instinctive to want to shout that loud and proud to show that we were a diversely owned business. Most people are doing that on their website, but I wanted to take it further. I wanted everybody who comes in contact with our packaging to see that reference and start a conversation about issues of diversity in a larger way.”
Ben noted that although the LGBTBE seal may have little sway in a point of purchase situation for an individual with a hankering for chocolate, there are ways that businesses lean on the label. “For example, our chocolate is now sold in two Bank of America corporate towers in Charlotte and New York,” Ben said. “For them, it was a way to show their employees that this is an issue that they care about.”
The LGBTBE seal may influence a larger conversation, but Ben said it’s another part of the packaging that really drives purchase decisions. “Our customers are ingredient readers. They may not care what’s on the front of the package, but they know how to read nutrition facts and ingredient statements. They know that the first ingredient is the most abundant in our product.”
It’s just another example of consumers effecting change through their spending decisions. Five North Chocolate and other Fair Trade Certified brands don’t have to become manufacturing giants to begin transforming our global supply chains. The change is already happening, incrementally, as conscious brands and shoppers share the responsibility to make and consume responsibly.
And what about distribution? Ben believes retailers are a key part of the equation, and he has this advice for anybody who wants to try Five North Chocolate for the first time:
“I recommend starting with the store locator on our website to see if there are any stores in your area that carry our products. That’s because if they’re carrying our chocolate, they’re likely carrying some other really awesome products. But also, those stores are our partners that have made it possible for us to grow.”
Spend for Good: If you can’t find a store near you that carries Five North Chocolate, check out their online store to get your fix, plus free shipping on all orders over $39!