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Direct Trade farmers

Shawn's grandpa on a farm

Farming has been a part of our family for generations. My grandpa, L.N. McGown, is pictured here as a boy at his farm in Red Oak, MO, 1910.
—Shawn Askinosie

Direct Trade circle logo

Direct Trade

We have a lot of respect for farmers. Farming, as a way of life, a career, an art and a necessity has been a part of our family in the Ozarks for generations. This appreciation is part of what led us down the path to Direct Trade—because farmers are an essential piece of the puzzle. We want to honor farmers as experts and craftsmen, so we treat them as such and consider them partners in our business.

It’s not about the chocolate. It’s about the chocolate.

Everything starts with quality. We work together with our farmer partners to craft exceptional chocolate from exceptional cocoa beans. To do this, Askinosie Chocolate is dedicated to Direct Trade, which means we not only know the regions from which the cocoa beans come, but more significantly, we can build long-term and mutually supportive relationships with the farmers who grow some of the world’s best cocoa beans. So how does this affect our farmers and your chocolate? And why do we practice Direct Trade?

Because you get better chocolate

photographing beans
  • Cocoa bean quality must be perfect and meet our standards for sourcing. The farmers adhere to our very detailed specifications, not those of a broker, which means we have input on all of the facets that impact flavor, such as fermentation and drying (both of which have the greatest impact, actually). We are intimately involved with these processes, which means modifications can be made early on to ensure the resulting beans taste as perfect as possible.
  • Our farmers sign a contract agreeing that they are committed to healthful and responsible cultivation method (among other things). Although many of our farmers cannot afford organic certification, our cocoa beans are grown using organic, pesticide- and chemical-free practices that are ecologically responsible. We know this because we see it firsthand!
  • Our chocolate is 100% traceable, which means we know the name of every farmer in the groups we work with and can trace our beans directly back to the farmers from whom we purchased them.
  • We have the opportunity to reject defective beans at the farm, and we have done this before. This does not mean that the farmers can’t sell those beans to someone else; it simply means that we won’t buy them.
  • We can help identify and solve problems before they become unmanageable (e.g. suggestions on ways to combat disease and pests which could wipe out a crop).
  • We have input on how the beans are stored before shipment, another detail that has a big impact on flavor.
  • We control the types of bags that the cocoa beans are are shipped in, which impacts air flow, moisture content and ultimately the flavor of the bean.
  • We control the actual importation of the beans ourselves because we are the importer. This is almost unheard of in the chocolate world. This impacts flavor because we can make sure the beans are not “inadvertently” mixed up with other beans at origin, that they are kept safe in transit all the way to our factory from the farm and finally that the beans are stored safely in our warehouse, which is 50 feet from our factory.

Because it’s better Farmernomics

drying cocoa beans
  • We pay the cocoa farmers significantly above the per-ton Fair Trade market price for their cocoa beans.
  • On top of that, we also profit share with these farmers. At the end of the selling cycle, which also happens to be the time to inspect the new crop, we visit the farmers and pay them directly. Because we also do not use a broker, this is just another example of removing layers of middlemen. With our model, it’s just us and the farmers. This way, we both have more control and the farmers make more money. In many cases, we even help them set up their first bank accounts.
  • Quality beans are key. We share a percentage of our profits based on the sales of products made with those beans (for that selling cycle), which encourages farmers to produce the highest quality cocoa beans. Higher quality = more sales = more profit share. By profiting sharing with our farmers, we are able to give them a financial Stake in the Outcome™.
  • We practice the same open book management policy with our farmers as we do in our factory. That means we share our financial statements with them in their language and explain, in-person, how we arrive at the profit share calculation.
  • A representative from our company visits our farmer groups at least once each year. We are always greeted with breathtaking hospitality. During our visits, we evaluate cocoa beans, discuss post-harvest and fermentation techniques that might be affecting flavor, compare last year’s crop to this year’s in terms of flavor variance, profit share, provide an extensive chocolate tasting, which includes tasting and discussing each step of the bean-to-bar process, and in most cases work together on community projects in the areas of education and nutrition.

Because we all get better communities

Shawn with fermentation boxes
  • At origin, our farmers partners collaborate with other farmer groups and teach them the techniques they learn from us, from moisture reduction to proper storage. In turn, this creates better beans. Because the beans are better quality and because our company pays more for them, this allows the farmers to leverage a better price for them. In some cases, this has created a ripple effect that raised cocoa bean prices for the entire country to a much more fair and reasonable price.
  • We want our farmer partners’ communities to thrive. We aim to do this by profit sharing, obviously, but we also try to ask what their needs are and work with them to meet those needs in a completely sustainable way. We try to solve problems through fully sustainable community development. In the case of two origins—Davao, Philippines, and Kyela, Tanzania—this has meant collaborating with the schools’ administration and PTA to develop a Sustainable Lunch Program for the students, many of whom suffered from malnutrition. The programs are sustainable because we purchase a product harvested by the PTAs, sell it here domestically and return 100% of the profits back to the PTA so they can source local food to provide lunch to every student for every school day. Since 2011, we have provided more than 315,000 meals completely sustainably. We are simply providing access to the market for these PTAs; they are feeding their community’s children.
  • Locally, we involve students in our community in the Direct Trade process by providing hands-on opportunities in entrepreneurship through our experiential learning program, Chocolate University. High school students travel with us to origin to meet cocoa farmers. To bring it full circle, they connect with local students there and experience firsthand our commitment to Direct Trade, community service and leaving the world a better place than we found it. They partake in our bean evaluations, witness our profit sharing meetings and get directly involved in community projects we are working on there.
  • As part of Chocolate University, we also are involved in the elementary and middle schools in our factory neighborhood. We visit their classrooms, Skype with them from origin, connect them with students their age at origin and more. They also visit our factory for field trips to supplement their units of study, whether its machinery, world cultures or business, and of course, they get an all-access pass to making chocolate.

So, why do we practice Direct Trade? Very few chocolate makers do, after all, and almost none go to the lengths we do to be involved every step of the way. It’s certainly not cheaper, easier or simpler, and it definitely doesn’t carry less financial risk for us. We practice Direct Trade because we think it’s the right way and the best way.