Friday, May 11, 2012

Congratulations Askinosie Chocolate on 5 Years

Shawn Askinosie with a Cacao Tree

When I opened Chocolopolis four years ago, there were a handful of artisan craft chocolate makers who created chocolate from the bean in very small batches. Askinosie was one of them. At that time, the bean-to-bar movement was so new that the one year of experience Askinosie had under its belt qualified as an eternity in the world of micro batch chocolate making. While there are many new artisan craft chocolate makers that have popped up in the ensuing five years, Askinosie is a well-tested veteran with a unique approach that deserves to be singled-out and celebrated on their fifth anniversary.

What is that unique approach? Askinosie only buys cacao directly from cacao farms. While it doesn't sound revolutionary, it is.

The large players in the mass market chocolate category buy cacao on the bulk market through many layers of middle men, usually having no direct relationship with the farmers. Each layer in this vast chocolate supply chain takes its cut of the value of the cacao, leaving very little profit for the farmer. The farmers do not receive a price premium for producing better quality cacao, so they have no incentive to improve fermentation or drying techniques. This results in poor quality cacao that is not attractive to artisan craft chocolate makers.

Artisan craft chocolate makers search for quality. They look for cacao from flavorful genetic varietals that have been well fermented and dried. They learn about the farms, the farmers and the production practices before they purchase cacao from a particular farm. They pay a minimum of 2-3x the bulk market commodity price for cacao when they find something of quality, far more than fair trade pays. While they might have conversations with a particular farmer about his practices, they'll often employ a broker when it comes time to cut a check. Not all of them purchase directly from the farmer.

There are many practical reasons for this, so I'm not in any way faulting other artisan bean-to-bar makers. It's just reality. If you're searching for the best quality cacao and you can't buy container-load quantities, you're often limited to purchasing from cooperatives or from larger cacao importers. When you do find a small producer of great cacao, sending a check directly in the mail to a cacao farmer in a country with little infrastructure can be a risky strategy. While there are individual instances where this can work, it doesn't happen in every situation. So you can see why it would be difficult for a chocolate maker to only purchase cacao directly from farmers in every situation.

That's what makes Askinosie so unique. While many chocolate makers start their chocolate making process with the cacao, Askinosie Founder, Shawn Askinosie, begins his chocolate-making process with the farmers. He looks for farmers who are willing to listen to feedback on fermentation and drying practices. He visits each farm before purchasing their cacao, and he shares 10% of his profits from each bar with its respective cacao farm, giving the farmers A Stake in the Outcome. His message of doing good for the farmers comes through loud and clear on all of his packaging, with pictures of the farmers on the bars. Askinosie Chocolate is good chocolate that's good for the farmers. It's the best of both worlds.

On its fifth anniversary, it seemed appropriate to celebrate Askinosie's unique success in the craft chocolate world. Congratulations to the entire Askinosie team and their partner farmers on five successful years!

Happy chocolate tasting,
Chief Chocophile

1 comment:

Vercruysse Geert said...

Thanks for sharing and nice to read how you think on Askinosie.
I do follow and sell his chocolate in my shop in Belgium and would really like to share this post from you, could I use you're findings on my blog please?
Thanks and succes with your blog,