Sustainable cocoa programs can also help with community building.

A number of chocolate suppliers, as well as bakers, have independent programs to provide additional assistance to farmers and their communities. For example, Deerfield, IL-based Mondelez International, Inc., the world’s largest chocolate company and buyer of cocoa, started its Cocoa Life sustainability program in 2012. This is a long-term, $400 million investment to empower 200,000 cocoa farmers and reach more than a million community members by 2022.

In February, Mondelez published its first progress report on the program. To date, it has reached 76,700 farmers in nearly 800 communities across six cocoa-growing regions: Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Indonesia, Dominican Republic, India and Brazil.

The report provides measurement data from Cocoa Life’s first impact evaluation in Ghana, where the program began as the Cadbury Cocoa Partnership. Initial results show Cocoa Life farmers’ incomes tripled since 2009, which is 49% more than control communities measured. Likewise, cocoa yield increased 37% more than in the control communities.

“This progress report brings together the voices of people in cocoa communities across all our origins and demonstrates how the program is working together with local governments, our suppliers and partners to build lasting change on the ground,” said Cathy Pieters, program director.

Today, 21% of Mondelez’ cocoa is sustainably sourced. The company carefully communicates this via its website, as well as on select food packages, with some brands now displaying the Cocoa Life logo.

“Consumer skepticism regarding a company’s sustainable efforts prompts consumers to seek solid proof of their legitimacy,” said Steve French, managing partner, Natural Marketing Institute (NMI). “Make sure transparency is front and center because consumers evaluate company claims and messaging with more scrutiny.”

César Melo, president of global chocolate for Mondelez, said, “Cocoa Life connects the beginning and end of the cocoa supply chain so farmers can see how their cocoa crop contributes to the chocolate we enjoy. As Cocoa Life grows and expands its reach, we will continue to be transparent about our measures for success and key learnings, and share the progress we are making against our goals.”

This is the type of progress consumers are willing to pay more for. It’s also the motivation behind Chocovision, a biennial conference created in 2012 targeted at senior business leaders and key stakeholders in the cocoa, chocolate and retail industries. The goal is to explore and initiate new approaches and solutions for securing a sustainable, successful chocolate future.

“What matters most in the chocolate industry is not the delight of the consumer but the dignity of the farmer,” said Michael Hastings, global head of corporate citizenship, KPMG, London, and keynote speaker at this year’s Chocovision conference that took place in Zurich in June. “Yes, it will cost our pockets much and our profits more, but we will have done a noble thing.”

Antoine de Saint-Affrique, CEO, The Barry Callebaut Group, said, “We need to raise the floor, leveraging all the good things we have seen at scale.” He pointed out that because of global warming, tree aging and farmer poverty, time is running out.

Mr. Saint-Affrique urged industry, governments and society to continue working together to invest in efforts that empower women in cocoa-growing communities. This is because, for example, female cocoa farmers in Ghana earn 25 to 30% less than their male counterparts and often struggle because of inadequate access to financing and business knowledge.

The goal is for these sustainably produced cocoa beans to be used in the manufacture of cocoa powder and various chocolate ingredients. At the beginning of the year, Puratos Corp. introduced premium compound coatings made with 100% sustainable cocoa powder. In 2012, Puratos started to exclusively use sustainable palm oil in its compound products. Now the company is ­introducing sustainable cocoa powder from its Cacao-Trace program.

“Cacao-Trace is unique because of the approach we take toward the farming communities,” said Alejandro Tovar, vice-president, marketing, Puratos. “We invest in two cocoa collection and training centers close to farmers in Vietnam and the Ivory Coast.

“In our cocoa collection center, we control the entire post-harvest process,” he continued. “By taking care of the fermentation and drying of cocoa beans, we are able to provide high-quality raw materials to our factories and ensure that sustainable sourcing efforts can be combined with great taste. Physical traceability is managed through our internal control system, which allows us to give our customers full transparency on the origin of our cocoa.”

These compound coatings, Mr. Tovar said, ensure customers are using a product that respects the cocoa farmer and the environment.