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.
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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.