Are you ready for the bitter truth?

Meta Pavlin Avdić // april 2021

The upcoming Easter holidays aren’t the only reason I signed up for chocolate this time around. There is one wonderful brand. A brand that I enthusiastically point out whenever we talk about good sustainable brands with a clear sense of existence and an active, influential role. Well, to be honest, I state it every time I want to explain to the client briefly and sweetly – anything as far as sustainability is concerned. Whenever I want to explain of how you bring sustainability closer to the general public. This brand is Tony’s Chocolonely. And yes, it’s sweet, but the truth it reveals is anything but that.

There has been a lot of talk lately about the fact that „saving the future“ largely depends on small and medium-sized enterprises (so-called SMEs – Small and Medium-sized Enterprises). This should pull the cart of large industries, with new principles, business models, speeches, offers to impress consumers and, consequently, to close the gap between the purpose and actual behaviour of consumers. They like to declare themselves ready to buy sustainable products (more than 70%), but in fact they rarely do so (only a little more than 40%). One of the most recent UK market surveys has also pointed out at businesses, citing that consumers want more encouragement and support from brands. Consumers should be more and more aware, ready to bridge this gap, but before the purchase of eco or sustainable products, they have lack of understanding, lack of trust, price and poor product availability. As many as 83% of them are convinced that big brands and companies are not doing enough to change their attitude towards the environment. As many as 81% of them also state that they intend to buy organic products in the future, and as many as 88% of them intend to make an effort to get them. The same survey also showed that consumers have much more confidence in smaller businesses. Namely, they trust them more when we talk about caring for the environment (83% of respondents), when we talk about sincerity (84%), about the quality of organic products (82%), about caring for the local community (78%) and providing credible information ( 78%). (Source: The brandbean, October 2020).

Small and medium-sized enterprises (by definition employ up to 250 people) will therefore obviously carry the flag. Which isn’t surprising – if we just take a moment and think about who we trust the most.

Why we trust small and medium-sized companies more and where are their advantages?

If we can trust the research then trust is largely connected to a clear and sincere intention/goal of the brand. Consumers have more confidence in brands that transparently explain their role in the market and the ones who quickly and efficiently realize their commitments or promises. Of course, this is easier and faster for small businesses. They are more agile, easier to reorganize, easier to motivate employees, create focus, etc. It is therefore easier to impress employees by directing them to change and turning them into brand ambassadors.

But the real reason is to be found elsewhere. Small and medium-sized enterprises were created with a clearer meaning. Their “why do I exist, why I’m on the market” is more precise, more focused, and results in a more active, clear voice. Therefore, it is easier and faster for the consumer to recognize and react to it.

And here lays the power that profession devotes to small and medium-sized enterprises in the context of sustainable transformations. Let’s not forget that 99% of all companies in the EU are SMEs. And if each one of them may seem like a drop in the ocean of sustainability, all together they are something completely different. This is also why the paradigm of partnerships and connections in the context of sustainability is so important.

But let’s finally jump ahead to something more fun, enticing, inspiring. To things that motivates us in the creative industry to take our share of responsibility for creating a sustainable world: a great brand that knows what works and it does well.

Bitter truth with a sweet solution

Tony’s Chocolonely is also a medium-sized company. It employs 215 people working in its hometown of Amsterdam and London. Tony’s Chocolonely is a Dutch company that started with chocolate production 15 years age. The story of company’s creation is extremely fascinating. It was founded by the Dutch journalist Teun van de Keuken (yes, they call him Tony), who in 2004 researched cocoa production in West Africa. Astonished by the reality of life plantation workers live, he demanded assurance from the largest chocolate producers that there was no exploitation of workers and that there are no children involved on plantations in their supply chain. Since he did not receive any response he decided to act about it. He started his personal prosecution for his involvement in the illegal exploitation of plantation workers – simply because, as a chocolate buyer, he was involved in the abuse of workers. His claim was denied. He has no choice but to „intervene“ in the industry and set new standards from within. He founded his own company, with a clear sense of solving the problem of modern slavery and child labor. He started producing chocolate, whose supply chain will be 100% slave-free – and so will his chocolate.

This sense of existence has been printed on the packaging since the first chocolate bar – and it stays there forever. Forever.

First the action, then the sweet reaction. The products are of secondary importance.

Through social media Tony’s called for signing a petition to pass legislation that legally obliges chocolate makers to clear supply chains of slavery. So far, it has received more than 62,000 signatures.

What does a big dog do when a small one jumps on it?

From the first moment Tony knew why he was on this market. His mission, ambition – and I believe his personal desire as well – is to create new standards, processes, relationships,… in short, foundations that will even convince big players in the chocolate industry to take a different path.

You have probably already seen a documentary on how the chocolate supply chain works. You’ve seen mothers who put by their children on a dusty road and beg to be picked up and taken to a plantation where they will work for a living for the next five years. And then maybe get some first change and that piece of plantation to work on for basic living. You’ve seen wealthy intermediaries who don’t care about workers living conditions. You’ve also seen companies who advertise happy families buying chocolate whilst the raw material has been produced by several thousand African farmers. Same global players who pledged (in 2001) to prevent illegal work along the entire supply chain by signing the Harkin Engel Protocol.

Well these giants, these world actors, were addressed by Tony in January this year with one of the most high-profile campaigns after 15 years of existence. Quite directly.

The Tony’s Chocolonely campaign – direct, sincere, sympathetic and above all positive – raised dust on all continents. “We are an influential company who produce chocolate and not a company that produces influential chocolate” Nicola Matthews, marketing director, said in an interview last year. This activation, this direct challenge is part of brand’s personality and team that creates it. „Our core value is an open intention which always challenges us to go beyond borders, to think bigger, wider, not to blend in with the others,“ she said at the time, emphasising constant self-criticism, especially when designing campaigns. One of the most fun internal guides they have in doing this is the so called “purple cow” test that shows whether the designed communication could be done by any other, competing brand. In such case they change it, of course.

It’s hard to believe, though, that Tony’s Chocolonely’s clear and truly different voice could at some point become “chocolate average”. Tony’s is extraordinary in every respect. It ignores all the traditional rules of chocolate making industry – whether it is about the choice of packaging colours, the combination of flavours or even shape of chocolate pieces. Tony’s chocolate bar is cut into uneven parts, which emphasises the inequality and disproportion of all elements of the chocolate industry. That is how the bar itself has become a channel of communication between their meaning and the problem they are trying to solve. Tony’s entered 2021 more directly then ever; with an exclusive series of 4 look-alike chocolate brands: Toblerone (Mondelēz International), KitKat (Nestlé), Twix (Mars) and the Ferrero Rocher line. He named it Sweet solution. The otherwise quite simple visual image (Tony’s red, blue and white colours) stated the obvious: Only together we can make 100% glory free the norm in chocolate. If we can do it, all chocolate companies can.

Amazon is opening doors to sustainable SMEs

Amazon recently announced the introduction of its own system of certification of sustainable products (i.e. Climate PPledge Friendly certification). And believes it’s small and medium-sized companies that will help raise the level of supply. Apparently, they love sweet novelties as they highlighted Lily’s chocolate, one of the first certified sustainable products, as an example of good practice at one of the online events. The potential that Amazon would be worth counting on, however, lies in the power of educating and guiding customers their platform. If they are to be trusted, throuht their platform SMEs will get a breakthrough in the sustainable world.

I highly recommend watching a video ad that energetically, dynamically, in their style of “happy activism,” draws attention to the bitter truth of Tony’s Chocolonely Manifesto’s chocolate industry.