Celebrating Valentine’s Day with Fine Chocolate: the Important Role of U.S. University Partners
By Bill Guyton,
Executive Director of the
Fine Chocolate Industry Association
Have you decided what gift you will give your loved one on Valentine’s Day? Perhaps the best option is fine chocolate. Two years ago, I was hired as Executive Director of the Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA), the only organization focused 100% on supporting fine chocolate professionals. The 300+ members include fine flavor cacao growers, chocolate makers, chocolatiers, suppliers of ingredients, packaging and equipment, pastry chefs, educators, marketers, and specialty retailers. FCIA members are dedicated to improving quality cocoa and chocolate products, representing the top tier of the market. They tend to be innovative, creative, and passionate about their products.
So, what is fine chocolate? FCIA defines it in terms of flavor, texture and appearance, as well as how its limited ingredients, high cocoa and low sugar content, are sourced and processed. A more complete description and list of our corporate company members can be found on our website. In simpler terms, if the chocolate has superior flavor, is ethically sourced, and has cocoa listed as the primary ingredient, you are probably eating fine chocolate.
Where does fine cacao grow? Cocoa quality depends on genetics, terroir, and post-harvest practices such as proper fermentation and drying. The majority of fine cacao is farmed by small-scale producers in Latin America, 20 degrees north and south of the equator. It is important to note, however, that fine cocoa can also be found in Southeast Asia and parts of Africa. Cocoa farmers typically grow other tree crops and food crops on their landholdings.
How is fine cocoa sourced? Fine chocolate companies are committed to sourcing the best quality cocoa and pay premiums to farmers. They also support sustainable farming practices and seek more direct relationships with their supply chain providers.
What are the partnerships with universities and fine chocolate? Leading U.S. universities are working with FCIA company members to achieve these goals through strategic partnerships. Many of the programs would not be possible without support from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) who provide long-term resources for many of these important initiatives.
Here are three examples of ongoing partnerships:
Agronomy, Health, Sensory and Genetic Research: Pennsylvania State University’s (PSU) College of Agricultural Sciences has been supporting high quality cocoa research through their Cacao and Chocolate Research Network (CCRN). The College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State is globally known for its high quality cacao and chocolate science. The CCRN network was founded by the faculty, but it is enthusiastically supported and also driven by the graduate students and post-doctoral fellows. Penn State faculty have conducted research on cacao and chocolate for more than 50 years on a wide range of topics including history, health benefits, different aspects of cacao production, plant genetic improvement, plant propagation, soil management, flavor and quality, sensory science, chocolate making, agricultural extension, gender and technology transfer issues. The Cacao and Chocolate Research Network at Penn State currently includes more than 30 members including international graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and faculty that are actively conducting cacao and chocolate research supported by funding from NSF (National Science Foundation), USDA-FAS (USDA Foreign Agricultural Service), USAID, industry and others. Most recently, PSU has been supporting efforts of FCIA’s sister organization, the Heirloom Cacao Preservation (HCP) Fund to help preserve some of the finest flavor cocoa in the world.
Fine Chocolate Business Surveys: Lead researchers from Oregon State University, the University of Washington and FCIA conducted a 2019 business survey of nearly 300 company respondents involved in the trade, manufacturing, and sales of fine chocolate products in the US and abroad. Findings provide important insights into the challenges and opportunities faced by FCIA members and aim to improve member experiences.
Education, Sensory and Research: Through an affiliation with Harvard University, The Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (FCCI) is helping to identify, develop and promote fine cacao and chocolate. The institute provides an array of educational programs and organizes a regional chocolate festival in the Boston area.
As you purchase fine chocolate for Valentine’s Day, you can hopefully gain a greater understanding of the many partners who have contributed to quality improvements. If you would like to learn more about the fine chocolate industry or how to support efforts, please feel free to reach out to Bill.
About the author:
Bill Guyton has been an AIARD member for over 15 years. He is an agricultural economist with a Master’s Degree from Michigan State University and an undergraduate degree in Agricultural Business from Colorado State University. Bill was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Democratic of the Congo and has worked in agricultural development for over 25 years with public and private sector groups.
By Russ Webster
President-Elect, AIARD and
President, Food Enterprise Solutions
Throughout the course of my career in international development, I’ve been continually reminded about how interconnected the world is. Not only does information technology bring us instant updates on what’s happening across the globe, but numerous networks – some formed through neighborhood, community or college-campus friendships, others through business relationships, others through following major social institutions like sports, others through the workings of large public sector institutions – link people from all walks of life through common interest or common cause.
This phenomenon holds just as true in the cases of agriculture and rural development – the key themes that bring us all together through AIARD. Farmers – the caretakers of resources and technologies that produce the food we all need – are interdependent on other key actors operating in rural areas. These include input suppliers, extension agents, cooperative managers, storage operators, post-harvest processors, truckers, purchasing agents for commodities – not to mention all of the people who work to build and maintain vital infrastructure: roads, energy, water, and telecommunications.
All of these actors, and the jobs they perform, go towards ultimately benefiting all of us – consumers. And, without the farm-to-market-and-everything-in-between system, we wouldn’t be able to carry on with our lives, our work, our contributions to society.
This is why I like to refer to agriculture as the job of fueling EVERYTHING we do. This is also why we need to be ever-mindful of supporting research, capital investment, policy and regulatory streamlining, and financing for all aspects of the system – production, processing, storage, distribution, retailing and even final preparation – towards the multiple goals of improved efficiency, reduced loss and waste, improved environmental sustainability, better retention of nutrient content, and improved access for consumers living in food deficient regions.
This year’s AIARD conference is designed to focus on a crucial dimension of this system connecting producers and consumers: food safety. We’ll hear from researchers, industry experts, development professionals, and donors on how they view both the challenge and the opportunity for improving food safety practices that can reduce loss, waste, and the incidences of foodborne illness. There will be plenty of time for networking, dialogue, and learning from new and old friends. We will celebrate our more-than-fifty-year history by recognizing the valuable contributions of students, members, and others who have furthered the cause of reducing global hunger and malnutrition, while also looking towards the future of our esteemed organization and exploring ways that we can grow our membership, facilitate ongoing opportunities for dialogue and learning, and further strengthen our support for future leaders in international agriculture and rural development.
Come and be a part of this network. I hope to see you there!
The mission of the AIARD BLOG
The mission of the AIARD Blog is to highlight and share thoughts, ideas and work from people who have devoted their careers to global agricultural development and hunger alleviation.