[INTERVIEW] Puratos, a food group that works in the bakery, patisserie and chocolate sectors, is committed to sustainable entrepreneurship and has set up the Cacao-Trace programme to achieve this. Glo.be met Raphael Audoin-Rouzeau, global supplies manager for Puratos, to find out more.
What is Cacao-Trace?
Cacao-Trace is a sustainability project that focuses on taste so it can have an impact on the life of plantation owners. It was created five years ago and now works with almost 8,000 farmers in six (soon to be seven) countries: Papua New Guinea, Vietnam, the Philippines, Côte d’Ivoire, Uganda and Mexico. Cacao-Trace is more than just a sustainability programme; it is also, and most importantly, a community. It is essential for us to be close to the producers. Puratos remains a small player in the chocolate sector. The rather limited size of this programme is what gives us this proximity to the farmers. It keeps us in touch with the reality on the ground.
With Cacao-Trace, Puratos is aiming to become involved in social entrepreneurship. What concrete actions are you introducing to achieve this?
Education and training are at the heart of Cacao-Trace's activities, but the innovative part of our programme is our work on quality. This allows us to increase the income of plantation owners by creating more value in the industry. In our post-harvest centres, we focus on the fermentation of the cocoa, something that is still largely overlooked by the industry. We have also introduced the "Chocolate Bonus", where 10 euro cents per kg of chocolate sold is paid back to the producers.
In addition to this, Puratos has launched a very ambitious agroforestry programme, whose aim is to offset all the carbon emissions of its cocoa activities by 2025. This is known as carbon insetting. In concrete terms, it means compensating for our carbon footprint by planting trees in our own supply lines. These trees will have a lasting environmental impact. Agroforestry also represents a diversification and multiplication of revenue sources for cocoa farmers, as the fruits and wood taken from the planted trees will be used.
What challenges have you encountered in the sustainable cocoa trade?
Over the last ten years, the industry has seen an acceleration in everything that is certified and/or sustainable. The cocoa sector is not immune to this. Sustainable approaches are currently focused on two areas: 1) increased yields and 2) traceability. Unfortunately, this is not a gage of either quality or a tangible increase in revenue for producers.
Increased productivity, thanks to training for example, does not mean that producers will earn more money in the long term. Why? Because over-production leads to a drop in prices. So even if producers see their production increase by 40% or even 50% initially, they end up earning less. This is what is currently happening in Côte d’Ivoire, for example.
What solutions are available for improving the quality of fair, sustainable cocoa?
Puratos wants to reinvent chocolate and produce exceptional cocoa and chocolates. Making high-quality, ethical products means that the work on the ground must once again be the heart of the product. Cocoa is a fermented product, like wine, beer and cheese. Cacao-Trace focuses on improving the quality of this fermentation process. We buy fresh, good-quality beans directly from the producers and carry out the fermentation ourselves. It's a win-win situation. As for the producers, they can receive their money more quickly and no longer have post-harvest risks, such as the theft of fermenting beans or rain, which rots them; they also receive quality bonuses. And we can innovate and provide our clients with exceptional products.
In Papua New Guinea, for example, we have developed sun-drying instead of the wood fire-drying traditionally used by farmers. This reduces the time and difficulty involved for the plantation owners, as they no longer need to go to the forest three times a week to find wood. It also has a positive impact on the environment, as it is no longer necessary to cut down trees. Obviously, the taste of this chocolate is completely new for our clients.
Increased productivity, thanks to training for example, does not mean that producers will earn more money in the long term. Why? Because over-production leads to a drop in prices.
Good quality cocoa is essential for Puratos. How do you work?
We work on five elements. Firstly, we rigorously select the cocoa pods - they have to be very ripe. Secondly, we select the fresh beans. This is not easy work, as a harvest often contains 3% to 8% of beans that are mouldy at the base, depending on whether it is dry or wet season. We obtain 30% of our Cacao-Trace quality in these first two stages. Thirdly, we control the natural fermentation of the cocoa, which lasts six to seven days spontaneously. Once the cocoa is fermented, the fourth phase involves drying. Lastly, the dried cocoa must be moved to the factory without any deterioration in quality. If these five stages are well done, they have an incredible effect on the product's final taste.
Cacao-Trace has also introduced a Chocolate Bonus. This means that 10 euro cents per kg of chocolate are collected, placed in the Belgian Next Generation fund and then redistributed to the communities of producers we work with.
How do you guarantee both the quality of the cocoa and a decent income for the producers?
Improving the quality of the post-harvest process allows us to create added value for chocolate consumers and agricultural communities. Chocolatiers are prepared to pay more if they recognise superior quality. This involves us being able to pay our producers more. Cacao-Trace has also introduced a Chocolate Bonus. This means that 10 euro cents per kg of chocolate are collected, placed in the Belgian Next Generation fund and then redistributed to the communities of producers we work with. Last year, 288,000 euros were collected and redistributed, either through community projects or in cash. In current conditions, we estimate that the Chocolate Bonus represents one to two months' additional income for the plantation owners.
Who is Raphael Audoin-Rouzeau?
He has trained in agronomy and agri-food sciences, and has been based in Asia for ten years. It is there that he created and introduced Cacao-Trace, the benchmark for sustainable cocoa of the Puratos Group. He is currently responsible for sustainable cocoa supplies for the Puratos Group. As an expert in cocoa fermentation, his aim has always been to improve the quality of the post-harvest cocoa processes, whilst also reorganising economic flows between north and south.