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 Mars wants the definition of sustainable cocoa certification to include productivity, creating more income for rural cocoa farmers, says Howard-Yana Shapiro, a plant science and research staff officer with Mars. He's holding cocoa bean pods and goodnessKnows, a new chocolate, fruit and nut snack from Mars. 


Mars
Inc.
is expanding its test market for its new goodnessKnows dark chocolate,
fruit and nut snack beyond Boulder into the Denver area, with TV advertising
beginning in May.

On
a global front of buying cocoa for its popular chocolate products that include
M&M’s, Snickers, 3 Musketeers, Dove and Milky Way, the private family-owned
business has embarked on an ambitious goal of buying only 100 percent certified
sustainably grown cocoa by the year 2020.

Company
representatives Suzanne Stites, cocoa flavanol platform leader, and Howard-Yana
Shapiro, global officer for plant science and external research, met me in
Denver to talk about why Mars chose to expand the definition of a certification
program – one that could be built throughout the world’s largest cocoa growing
areas of West Africa, East Asia and South America.

The
project, called “Certification Plus,” is attempting to build a coalition of the
largest cocoa buyers as well as major suppliers, while also developing buy-ins
by governments and the international donor community.

For
Mars, the missing ingredient in a cocoa certification program, Shapiro says,
was productivity.

The
$13 billion global chocolate industry is huge, with demand for cocoa growing
from 2 to 3 percent per year. But small rural farmers remain in poverty, with
many growing only about 450 kilos of cocoa per hectare, Shapiro says.

“We
had to ask ourselves, where are you going to take a stand?” he says.

The
Mars goal, made public about a year ago after intensive research at its Mars
Center for Cocoa Science
in Bahia, Brazil, started in 1982, seeks a sustainable
economy model that will improve the social infrastructure of cocoa farmers with
better schools and health care, maintain their “cultural milieu” while also
facing up to difficult environmental and ecological challenges.

From
the start, Shapiro explains, Mars was determined to make all of its findings
public, including research on the cocoa bean genome, the best planting
materials, soil science, fertilization and plant grafting.

At
first, many people told Mars researchers and scientists they were crazy for
believing they could help farmers triple their yields in 10 years, Shapiro
says. But by increasing yields, Mars saw a way of actually opening more land to
other production such as fruit trees, row crops and high value tropical trees,
making farmers’ land more valuable and giving them an insurance policy on their
future.

“The
other side of intensification is diversification,” Shapiro explains. In rural
areas, 75 percent of the people can spend between 65 to 75 percent of their
income and still be hungry. “Hollow calories are not nutrition,” Shapiro says.

Mars
has partnered with the government of Cote d’Ivoire in West Africa, commonly
known as the Ivory Coast and the world’s largest producer of cocoa, and is
expanding to production areas around the world.

“Can
we do this alone? No,” Shapiro says. “Can we do it with just the Ivorian
government? No.” Mars and other cocoa buyers need the help of the international
donor community, including agencies like the World Bank, the International
Finance Corp, the African Development Bank and the U.S. Agency for
International Development, or USAID.

Mars
isn’t contracting to control the market for a sustainably certified cocoa,
Shapiro emphasizes. “Everyone has the same ability to buy these cocoa beans.”

The
cost for Certification Plus? As a privately held and very private company, Mars
officials say, specific numbers are not released. But Shapiro says the company
has spent “tens of millions of dollars up to this point” over the past 15
years. And it will cost “tens of millions of dollars” more.

Shapiro,
a University of California professor, author and expert on sustainable
agriculture and agroforestry systems, is clearly determined to see the Mars’
goals become reality. “This is really the next level to a green revolution,” he
says. “And the project doesn’t end in 2020, it goes on forever.”

Why
is Certification Plus so important to Mars? Mars is the world’s largest buyer
of cocoa bean equivalents by a company that makes a product. Some of the
industry’s brokers are larger purchasers, but Mars is the largest buying
manufacturer.

“Why?”
Shapiro asks. “Because the Mars family recognizes that without a sustainable
future, they won’t have a business for their great grandchildren.”

In
10 years, Shapiro believes every Mars chocolate product will be made from
sustainable cocoa.

And
that includes goodnessKnows, its new chocolate, nut, whole grain and fruit
entry into the nutritional snack market. Mars says its “snacksquares” give
consumers 200 mg of cocoa flavanols, proven to have health and cardiological
benefits.  Mars owns several
patents on cocoa flavanols.

Mars
operates 135 factories in 68 countries and has annual global revenue of $28
billion, according to company information.

Mars
came to Boulder first, says Suzanne Stites, because it’s one of the “happiest
and healthiest” places. The testing, with ads running in newspapers, on RTD
buses and in-store samples, is now in Denver and soon will kick off TV
advertising.

“It’s
still early on,” Stites says, but buyers seem to like that the snack is
“calorie contained at 150 calories each, and it tastes really good.” 

So
just one disclaimer here. I only ate one almonds and berries goodnessKnows
snack (and one during the interview) while writing this column, but the samples
of all three flavors – 4 snacks to a package – seem to have disappeared quickly
at my house. It takes four snacks to make one 150-calorie serving, so a few
more flavanols for me surely seem like a healthy idea.

 

 

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