Guilt-free chocolate Supermarket giant Aldi embraces fair trade cocoa

German discount supermarket giant Aldi is using more fair trade cocoa in its assortment. Could this steer the product into the mainstream?
Cocoa heading for German tastebuds, via Aldi.

Last month, Aldi discount supermarket stores in southern Germany made a seemingly trifling modification that could herald an important sea change when it comes to the import of fair trade products: The cocoa and other ingredients used to make the supermarket’s house brand of chocolatey spread were altered so that they now come from fair trade certified sources.

That change, according to Aldi, marks just the beginning of a much larger shift. In the coming months, the supermarket giant will begin using fair trade cocoa in chocolate bars, holiday treats and snack bars too. Given Aldi’s sheer size and the great influence it exerts on suppliers as well as the expectation that other retailers will follow suit, experts believe the change might lead to a breakthrough in the market for fair trade cocoa and other products in Germany.

For fair trade activists, that change has been a long time coming. Despite the attention paid to poor working conditions for farmers in Africa and Asia, the number of fair trade products available on the German market has only risen slowly. Cocoa, however, is one exception to that rule. Manufacturers in Germany bought around 40,000 tons of fair trade cocoa in 2017, an increase of 33 percent over the previous year. The share of fair trade chocolate bars sold grew by 27 percent.

Production that is both sustainable and covers costs is impossible. Dieter Overath, head of Transfair, on the cocoa business

Still, there is a lot of room left for growth. Only eight percent of the cocoa sold on the German market is now certified fair trade. Meanwhile, the situation for cocoa farmers in countries like Ivory Coast and Ghana has grown increasingly dire as global cocoa prices have rapidly plummeted. "In view of the disastrous 40 percent drop in cocoa prices, production that is both sustainable and covers costs is impossible," said Dieter Overath, the head of Transfair, an organization that advocates for the use of fair trade products. This makes the guaranteed minimum prices and additional premiums farmers receive with fair trade practices all the more important, added Mr. Overath.

The largest global certifier of fair trade products is Fairtrade International, based in Bonn, Germany. The organization seeks not only to ensure farmers are compensated fairly, but that they adhere to environmental standards. In Germany, 345 retailers now offer Fairtrade certified products. The Fairtrade initiative generates the most revenue with coffee – more than €400 million per year, followed by tropical fruits, with sales of €130 million.

The Fairtrade seal has a good reputation with consumers: Surveys indicate that 95 percent of buyers trust the label. The Aldi initiative now means the label will reach a wider audience – and not only those consumers who tend to shop at more upscale organic food stores.

"In addition to offering a wide variety, we place great value on labels such as Fairtrade, which our customers can trust," said Simon Binder, a corporate responsibility manager at Aldi Süd, which operates Aldi supermarkets in the south of Germany.

Florian Kolf leads a team of reporters covering the retail, consumer goods, luxury and fashion markets. To contact the author: [email protected]