Making Chocolate Good

Mars commits to sustainable cocoa production by 2020

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Soon consumers will have a reason to feel positively virtuous about biting into a chocolate bar.

Mars, which produces fan favorites M&Ms, Snickers and Dove, said this week that it intends to certify its entire cocoa supply as being sustainably produced by 2020. In pursuit of that goal, the confectioner is partnering with the Rainforest Alliance. It hopes to achieve Rainforest Alliance certification for a significant portion of its total cocoa requirements. Products carrying the seal are produced in a way that safeguards natural habitats and ensures workers are fairly treated.

"The move by Mars to Rainforest Alliance certified cocoa shows a real commitment to sustainable farming," said Tensie Whelan, president-Rainforest Alliance. "When companies with the scale and heritage of Mars show this level of leadership, the results are measurable improvements in the quality of life for cocoa farmers, their families and communities, and a cleaner, greener environment for all of us."

Consumers will see the impact of Mars' efforts as soon as next year, when Mars begins using Rainforest Alliance certified cocoa in its Galaxy Chocolate, sold in the U.K. and Ireland.

Sustainability has proven to be a popular marketing message for certified products, such as coffee, which is the most widely available Rainforest Alliance certified crop. The Rainforest Alliance first began certifying cocoa in 2004.

Even so, these types of certification seals don't often resonate with consumers, according to a recent study by BBMG, the branding and integrated-marketing company behind "Conscious Consumer Report: Redefining Value in a New Economy." The study found that seals sponsored by nonprofits, such as the Rainforest Alliance, are much less familiar to consumers.

The move toward sustainably produced cocoa is a call that's being taken up across the industry, which last month convened for its second Roundtable for a Sustainable Cocoa Economy. Sustainability has emerged as a key issue for the cocoa industry, given high commodity costs.

Cadbury and others have invested millions in sustainability efforts. Mars says it has invested more than $10 million in each of the past several years.

"Our commitment to sustainability is serious and long-term, and this announcement is a major step toward our global commitment to purchase only cocoa that is certified as being produced in a sustainable manner," said Paul Michaels, Mars CEO-president. "We are determined to put our principles into action restoring the cocoa supply for the next generation."