By Nicole Caldwell for Green Matters
Green Matters has teamed up with WeWork for the month of April to collaborate on the #workgreen challenge and we invite you to share how you're incorporating sustainability into the workplace. In this three-part Q&A series, we’re spotlighting different WeWork member companies around the country making great contributions to sustainability. In this installment, we’re sitting down with Pashmina Lalchandani, co-founder of Bar & Cocoa.
Company name: Bar & Cocoa
What they do: Bar & Cocoa is an online marketplace and subscription club featuring the world’s best bean-to-bar chocolate. Everything is direct trade and supports the farmers who produce the cocoa beans while also encouraging sustainable agroforestry, organic farming and permaculture methods.
Number of Employees: Three
Why Bar & Cocoa is so valuable: About 70 percent of the world’s cocoa is grown in the tropical West African climates of Ghana and the Ivory Coast, where fair labor practices of any kind are few and far between. An estimated 1.8 million children are thought to be exposed to slave labor in that industry, according to the Food Empowerment Project. Finding chocolate labeled as “fair trade” only ensures a standard minimum premium paid to farmers—generally, at least 10 percent above average wages; not necessarily a living wage at all.
Bar & Cocoa seeks out bean-to-bar producers: a designation signaling chocolate makers who work directly with raw cocoa beans (as opposed to chocolatiers, who buy blocks of already-made chocolate and melt them down to make confections). In this direct-trade situation, middlemen are eliminated completely. Bean producers typically get paid three times the average wage per ton of fine cocoa, which supports sustainable wages. Growers are encouraged to produce superior cocoa beans grown on diverse farms, which means healthier soils and ecosystems. The end result is sustainable, craft chocolate with a very high cocoa content that is healthier and much better-tasting than the chocolate bars at your local convenience store.
GREEN MATTERS: What’s the cocoa industry scene like these days?
Pashmina Lalchandani: The world is only familiar with one kind of chocolate from one kind of bean [the forastero]. Any chocolate bar you pick up is usually made from one kind of bean, and it’s not really about the flavor. When these companies are making chocolate, the cocoa butter has a lot of value in skincare products... not so much in bar. Often the cocoa butter is replaced with cheaper fats. You end up with this sugary, milky product that’s really just candy… Imagine your whole life drinking Malbec and you think all wine is that, and then I come along and say “Try this Petite Syrah.”
What is Bar & Cocoa’s green contribution to the world?
Most of our chocolate makers are very careful where beans come from. They’re doing direct trade and cutting the middleman out completely… These beans are coming from companies that create a community or co-op to refine the fermentation process.
There’s one co-op cocoa community in Tanzania and at least 20 chocolate makers I know of buy from them. They are doing such cool things. It’s creating sustainability efforts too by encouraging farmers to grow different kinds of fruits and beans. We don’t want monoculture! The chocolate makers and the people buying are encouraging the difference in crops.
We trust the bean-to-bar process… There are other really cool makers doing really cool things, but they don’t make the chocolate themselves. There’s a difference between chocolatier and chocolate maker. We focus on chocolate makers so we know they have an intimate knowledge of where their beans are coming from.
I’ve visited 40 to 45 of our solo and small-batch chocolate makers in the US and around the world and chatted with them firsthand. It is really an art at that point, and totally seasonal. It is very small scale. And a lot of them are women.
When it comes to incorporating sustainability into a business model, what would you consider to be the biggest challenge?
Pricing is very difficult. It’s a balancing act between having to have a profit and really having a respect for the fact that some of these smaller makers can’t afford to go lower on their prices.
Our biggest challenge has been shipping. Chocolate melts! Especially in the summertime… And one of the things I refuse to do is use Styrofoam. I would rather refund the person [for the chocolate melting] than use Styrofoam. We spent a lot of time figuring this out… The tighter the packaging, the less air there is between bars and ice, the more likely it will survive. I measured over 300 different kinds of bars to see how tight we could make this packaging and the smallest box we could use. We can’t feature all the bars – if they’re too thin and too big it doesn’t really fit in our box without getting smushed and broken.
What was the piece of your backstory that inspired you to create a business steeped in sustainability?
I think it’s economics. I worked my ass off to get to where I am. This is my second company. We have a privilege—when we get to a certain income level and status in life, we think of how we can give back. If I’m not living paycheck to paycheck anymore, I’m going to make sure I’m not going to get a cup of coffee in Styrofoam and I will pay more for that. To use that—where I am in life—and creating the right choices for our future and our planet.
A lot of it is also just the food itself. When eaten in the form we sell it in, is so much healthier and more satisfying. And wanting to share that with the world: why it’s so expensive, and why it tastes the way it does.
If you had to pick, what part of Bar & Cocoa’s work are you most excited about or gratified by?
I think what really brought it home was going to Costa Rica and visiting one of the farms. It was really satisfying to see how much pride the farmers take in what they’re doing. And 25 percent of their salary is going toward their kids’ education. That just brought it home: how it was done, and the impact it had on the community and the land.
It’s a much deeper level than just, “Hey, I’m going to introduce you to the best chocolate you’ve ever had.”
Tell us about the feedback you’ve gotten from your customers.
It’s great! We have a lot of loyal club members. Each month we send out four bars of chocolate, we email them about it, and we create as little waste as possible. The ice is reusable, the box is plain cardboard—it’s not really Instagrammable! The sticker on the box is biodegradable, it was three times the cost of normal stickers. And we email our tasting notes. Mailchimp is actually interviewing Chris because our email has such high open rates.
Each shipment has four different bars, four different makers, and different origins all in the same box. We talk about where the beans are coming from. Chris is in charge of shipping and logistics. We have around 400 different bars—we definitely have one of the largest selections of craft chocolate online in the US.
How has WeWork helped you to continue your mission?
For me, because I’m in Denver by myself, I think it’s great that they have introductory memberships. If I need an office for a meeting or interview, I have these options. I can use their awesome facilities to print and cut brochures for tasting events I host around Denver. And the other great thing is when I’m traveling I have these other locations I can use. When I’m traveling all over the US, I can just plop down at the location.
This month we’re challenging people in the Green Matters community to showcase the ways they incorporate sustainable practices into the workplace. How do you personally keep things green in your work space?
Sitting in front of me is a metal water bottle and a double-walled coffee mug.