Tony's Chocolonely: Raising the chocolate bar for industry change

For years, I’ve been supporting chocolate – and change – maker Tony’s Chocolonely to create their annual report. My kids and my colleagues love that I work for them. Because I always return from meetings with their yummy chocolate in funky flavors. Their bars are a treat, but what inspires me most to work with them is their commitment to creating positive change in the industry. Here’s my take on their key ingredients for positive change!

Crazy people raising the (chocolate) bar

Positive change usually starts with frustration about an issue plus people crazy enough to doing something about it. And this ccompany started just like that. Investigative journalists were shocked to find out how much child labor and slavery there is involved in nearly all chocolate. In 2006, in an attempt to prove that it could be done, they produced 5000 bars of slavery-free chocolate. As this first batch sold out in just a few hours, they turned the experiment into a company.  The company tagline says it all: “Crazy about chocolate, serious about people.”

Partners towards a common goal

A shift to more sustainable business practices is needed at all steps along the chain. From cocoa farmers, chocolate companies and governments, to retailers and consumers. The people at Tony’s understand they cannot transform the cocoa industry by themselves. Tony’s therefore developed a roadmap towards its mission: “Together we make chocolate 100% slave-free”.

The roadmap engages five key actors in the industry to work towards this common goal:

  • Strengthen farmers to increase their income
  • Engage the largest companies in the industry to take action in their supply chains
  • Encourage retailers to leverage their buying power
  • Push governments to adopt and enforce legislation
  • Enable chocofans to raise awareness and spread the message

Scaling up for real movement

To really engage partners along the cocoa chain, Tony’s knows there needs to be a business case every step of the way. Its own story and success provide lots of inspiration to get different parties to act.

At the launch event for its 17/18 annual report that scale became very clear:

  • Over 5,000 farmers benefit from the special premium Tony’s pays, nearly 1,000 farmers are involved in awareness-raising activities to prevent unwanted child labor and slavery;
  • The Netherlands’ largest retailer Albert Heijn announcedit will use Tony’s principles of cooperation for 100% slave-free chocolate for its very successful private label chocolate brand Delicata. World leading chocolate manufacturer Barry Callebaut supports the change process;
  • 5,000 chocofans joined the party, over 8,500 people support Tony’s mission as Serious Friends;
  • And the brand became the market leader in the Netherlands with a market share of 19%. Net revenue grew by 23% to nearly € 45 million and a net profit margin of 4.5%.

Relentless ambition for chocolate and change

Nice numbers for a company that produced its first bar of chocolate just 12 years ago… But they know there’s still a lot of work to be done. Therefore, Team Tony’s continues to work – and party – very hard to increase its own impact by expanding the business to other countries and continuing to drive collaboration in partnership with many others.


Top tips for greenwashing: communicating sustainability in horticulture

In October 2017, The Terrace was invited by the MPS-group to lead a workshop for and with leading growers of flowers and flowering plants from the Netherlands. This was part of event in preparation for an international horticulture trade fair. The focus of the workshop was on how to best communicate on sustainability in the horticulture sector. Here's what I had to say about conviction, focus, collaboration and... greenwashing.

Tip #1: Start from your personal conviction

The trouble with sustainability is the lack of a common definition. It may include topics like environmental protection, labor conditions, community engagement, economic impacts and/or governance. There are so many terms floating around, like CSR, responsible business conduct, future-proof, thriveability... Whatever term you prefer, it needs to be relevant to your core business and your key stakeholders. Most likely, this will be a function of the industry, the cultural/national context and the conviction and focus of senior leadership. So before communicating your sustainability efforts externally, first consider what sustainability means to you. For which parts of sustainability do you care most deeply? Why did you get started with organic flowers? What made you integrate sustainability into your business model?

Tip #2: Focus on what matters

Sustainability is multi-faceted, so your sustainability strategy probably is as well. But while all those facets may be relevant and understood by people within the industry, they won't all be equally relevant for different stakeholders. So when communicating your sustainability strategy, think first and foremost from the perspective of your audience. For different target audiences, focus your sustainability story in different ways. While keeping the overall story the same, differentiate the key topics to highlight for different audiences. Not everyone knows as much about sustainability issues in horticulture - or whatever sector you're in - as you do.

Unilever uses a very powerful analogy to further strengthen its sustainability communications: the sword and the shield. The sword is a strong message that you pro-actively want to share with your target audience. And which is very relevant for that target audience. The shield contains other topics which you are working on in your sustainability strategy, but which are less relevant to your audience, or less easy to talk about as an individual brand or company.

For example, for Lipton's sustainability strategy includes both social and environmental elements. In consumer communication, the social elements are emphasized like a sword. Most consumers realize that picking tea leaves is hard work in tough locations, so this context helps Lipton tell its story about the programs it has in place to make life easier for tea pluckers. The improvements Lipton is making to reduce pesticides is more like a shield. Something to work on very actively, but as most consumers are unaware that nearly all tea in the world contains pesticides, communicating about this as an individual brand is more challenging. So while this may be a great topic for a sustainability website or report, we'd not recommend putting that same story on the pack.

Tip #3: Some stories are better told together

Some topics are difficult to raise, even if you feel it is high time the world knew about the issues and your solutions. This is where sector-wide collaboration and communications may be needed. Just like for tea, for the horticulture sector, pesticides might be such a topic. As an individual grower of flowers, this is a topic you might be able to raise with expert buyers in retail. But with consumers, this is not so easy. If you try to mention this on your packaging, consumers might just link your name to pesticides in general, rather than the reduction you've achieved. To raise awareness of the issues around pesticides, it would be better to collaborate. With industry bodies and certification providers, but potentially also with NGOs and consumer organizations.

Tip #4: Always be honest

Good communications about your sustainability efforts and performance can build trust in your organization and its products. But even if you're selling plants and flowers, and you'd like to make the world a greener place, what you're communicating has to be true. Only balanced communications - sharing both successes and challenges - builds trust. If what you're sharing is not true, then it's merely greenwashing. That word might have a nicer connotation for the horticulture sector than for others, but it will simply erode trust.