Opening that shiny wrapper to reveal your favorite chocolate bar might seem like a guilty pleasure.

But is there a much darker side to your sweet tooth than a few savory calories?

Chocolate is a $90 billion manufacturing industry dominated by North American and European countries, especially at Christmas. However, more than half of its key ingredient is produced by just two African countries: Ivory Coast and Ghana.

“Most of the world’s cocoa comes from just two countries, using child and slave labor and causing deforestation and climate change,” Ahrum Pak (pictured below), co-founder of WNWN Food Labs, tells BusinessCloud.

“Global demand for cocoa is growing at 4-5% per year, climate change is reducing yields in current growing areas, and even on farms where there is no child or slave labor, wages are low and life is precarious.

“Thousands of miles away, multinational companies headquartered in the US and the EU, aka ‘Big Chocolate’, are making huge profits from the sale of chocolate made from cocoa. We believe that our favorite sweets should not be harmful and guilt-free.’

Make Chocolate Fair emphasizes that growing cacao is hard manual labor and very time-consuming work, as caring for the beans and harvesting the crop requires close and constant attention.

Flowering and fruiting all year round, the large cocoa pods must be cut from the trees with machetes or sticks. Each pod contains 20-30 seeds encased in a sweet, white pulp, and it takes a whole year from one tree to produce half a kilogram of cocoa.

Since the pods do not ripen at the same time, the trees must be constantly monitored. Cacao is also a very fragile crop, easily affected by weather changes and prone to diseases and pests.

Cocoa pods

By Lee Le Min, Unsplash

A report last year by the NORC Research Center at the University of Chicago estimated that 2.8 million children in the two countries were employed in 2018 and 2019 – 2.3 million of them regularly – with many involved in hazardous work involving sharp tools, heavy cargoes and chemicals. processing.

WNWN is committed to providing consumers with an alternative ethical and sustainable choice through its plant-based cocoa-free chocolate.

Materials scientist and co-founder Dr Johnny Drain (below) believes he has created a product that tastes, melts, bakes and even bakes like the original – despite being vegan, lower in sugar, produced at 80% less CO2 emissions and does not contain palm oil.

Dr. Johnny Drain, WNWN Food Labs

“Our main ingredients are British barley and Italian carob,” says Dr Drain. “We have developed a proprietary process to create the flavor compounds that occur when you make chocolate with these two ingredients.

“When you make chocolate, you ferment and roast the cocoa beans and then melange them. We do almost the same thing, only without cocoa beans. Nowadays in the FoodTech world, people are using things with impressive names like precision fermentation and cellular agriculture to develop alternative ingredients like alternative proteins.

“But our approach is what’s often called ‘traditional fermentation’: a riff on the kinds of methods that have put products like bread, cheese, coffee, chocolate, vinegar, booze and miso on people’s plates for millennia.

“The goal is to recreate the ‘chocolate candy.’ There are many different flavor profiles in the world of chocolate. Even when you compare regular dark chocolate to regular milk chocolate, the feel is incredibly different. Using our fermentation process, we can dial in the acidity, bring out the fruitiness, etc. to recreate different flavor profiles.”

Alternative to WNWN chocolate

Alternative to WNWN chocolate

He adds: “Chocolate has two key features. First, the aroma that comes from the fermentation and roasting of the cocoa beans. And secondly, the texture and mouthfeel, which comes from several unique properties that cocoa butter has – the fat in the cocoa bean.

“Reproducing both in tandem—without using palm oil—is challenging to say the least!”

London-based WNWN – pronounced “win-win” – raised $1 million in funding last year and currently employs four full-time and four part-time staff.

EnviroTech 50 – the UK’s most innovative green technology creators for 2022

“We wanted to create a company to help improve our broken food system. As we learned more about chocolate, we discovered that much of the world’s chocolate has a very dark side that most consumers are completely unaware of,” says Pak, a former investment banker who connected with Dr. Drain on Instagram when he was looking for a more focused mission. . .

It is already planning alternatives for other unethical, unsustainable products, including coffee, vanilla and tea. “If you look at the supply chains and externalities of many of the world’s favorite products, you unfortunately find a similar story,” she continues.

“In the near term we will be rolling out more delicious alt-shock products in the UK and abroad as we grow our team and build production capacity.”

Eco-labelling startup Foodsteps has raised £3.3m

Child & slave labour – the dark side of your chocolate bar

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