As much as I love researching lawn mowers and shaving cream, some topics are just more delicious, such as the best sustainable chocolate brands. If you’re looking for something tasty to pair with your sustainable coffee, check out the brands below, all of which go way beyond just a nod at fair trade.
Table of Contents
- What is sustainable chocolate and why does it matter?
- How to choose sustainable chocolate
- The best eco-friendly & Ethical chocolate: our top picks
- Beyond Good
- Theo – Grapefruit Ginger, Root Beer Barrel, and Bread & Chocolate only
- Alter Eco – Select vegan chocolate bars only
- Seed and Bean – Dark Chocolate only
- Other sustainable chocolate companies to check out
Not sure how sustainability works when it comes to chocolate, or why it matters? Let’s start there first.
Very transparent ethical chocolate producer
What is sustainable chocolate and why does it matter?
Just like coffee, cocoa can only be grown in a slim region in tropical countries. Most cocoa production is in West Africa, with Ivory Coast the biggest exporter and Ghana the second, responsible for around 43% and 20% of the world’s cocoa supply, respectively. The rest of the world’s chocolate supply originates in Latin America and Asia.
Because the area where cocoa can be grown is so small, and so focused on countries that are less economically developed, there are serious challenges in the cocoa industry, such as child labor, slave labor, and deforestation.
Child labor and chocolate
It’s been more than two decades since the world sat up and took notice of the rampant use of child labor in the chocolate industry. But, despite many companies signing the Harkin-Engel Protocol in 2001, which promised to grapple with the problem, little has changed. There are still an estimated two million children working on cocoa farms in West Africa alone. Hershey, Nestle, and Mars have all been embroiled in lawsuits alleging child labor in their supply chains in recent years.
Kids forced to work in the cocoa industry are extremely vulnerable to injury. Cocoa farming is intensive work, typically involving machetes, toxic chemicals, and back-breaking physical labor. And, of course, child labor is often slave labor and sometimes involves child trafficking, particularly from Mali or Burkina Faso into the Ivory Coast or Ghana.
There is no place for child labor or slave labor in sustainable, ethical chocolate. This is why all of the companies I recommend at Leaf Score have been assessed and recommended by the Food Empowerment Project. To make the FEP’s Chocolate List, the company must be transparent about sourcing and not source chocolate from West Africa.
Why this blanket rule? Well, because even chocolate companies that carry fair trade, Rainforest Alliance, or UTZ certification have been found to use child labor in West Africa. The same problems with child labor have not been documented in cocoa-producing regions of Latin America and Asia, however, although there are other considerations in these areas, such as deforestation.
We’ll talk about deforestation, palm oil and chocolate in a minute, but first, cocoa trees and deforestation. Between 2001 and 2014, more than 200,000 hectares of forest was cleared in Ghana and Ivory Coast, much of which was replaced with cocoa trees. Around 40% of Ivory Coast cocoa is thought to come from areas that are supposed to be protected.
Just three large agribusiness companies – Olam, Cargill, and Barry Callebaut – control around half of global cocoa trade. These companies and the chocolate industry as a whole have, for years, bought cocoa grown in areas subject to illegal deforestation (such as national parks and other protected forests) and have been the primary driver of forest destruction in Ivory Coast and Ghana. Any chocolate brand owned by or that sources cocoa from these three companies is also not sustainable in my book.
As for palm oil, this isn’t a typical ingredient in basic chocolate, but it is a common ingredient in many candy bars with a biscuit or wafer component. Why is palm oil bad? Well, because it is an even bigger contributor to deforestation and loss of biodiversity than cocoa itself. Between 2001 and 2017, Borneo alone lost 14% of its forested areas, much of it to palm plantations, according to data from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). And, like cocoa, palm oil production is tied to human rights violations.
Companies making palm oil-free chocolate include Chocolaterie Robert, Pacari, Moo Free, Madécasse, Divine, Booja Booja, Seed and Bean, Montezuma, and the Raw Chocolate Company.
So, is deforestation necessary for chocolate production? In short, no. A much better approach than simply cutting down trees for palm oil and cocoa plantations would be to improve conditions on existing plantations and farms.
Yields on cocoa farms are woefully low due to poor farming practices. Soil on these farms is stripped of nutrients time and again, leading farmers to move on to newly deforested areas. And, sadly, by having a monopoly on cocoa prices, the major companies push down prices and pay for farmers, meaning that farmers have nothing to invest in more sustainable practices that nourish the land. Taking an organic, permaculture approach to cocoa production would help eliminate the use of toxic chemicals and prevent further deforestation.
Chocolate, palm oil, and the pandemic
Deforestation, whether for palm oil plantations or cocoa plantations, has a significant impact on local wildlife. Orangutans are being pushed to the brink of extinction because of palm oil plantations, but elephants and chimpanzees are also in trouble, especially in Ivory Coast, as are pangolins (who have recently shot to fame due to COVID-19).
So, even if deforestation itself doesn’t give you nightmares, knowing that the next major global pandemic might already be brewing near a cocoa farm of palm oil plantation should give you pause.
And after that pause, you might think that all you need to do is look for a fair trade logo and a checkmark from the Roundtable Sustainability Palm Oil (RSPO). But, as with so many things, figuring out which brands are ethical and sustainable is a little more complex.
The Roundtable Sustainability Palm Oil (RSPO) was established in 2004 with the aim of cleaning up the palm oil sector after environmental scandals. Unfortunately, several companies that offer assurances of ethical and sustainable palm oil sourcing, relying on the RSPO logo, have been tied to major human rights abuses including child labor (with kids as young as 8 working in hazardous conditions).
Amnesty International’s 2016 report, The great palm oil scandal: Labour abuses behind big brand names, traced palm oil from the world’s biggest palm oil grower, Singapore-based agri-business Wilmar, to Nestlé, AFAMSA, ADM, Colgate-Palmolive, Elevance, Kellogg’s, Procter & Gamble, Reckitt Benckiser, and Unilever. Understandably, none of these companies make it into our recommendations on Leaf Score (with my knowledge; these giant companies often gobble up smaller companies, which can be hard to keep track of).
So, the only real way to know that a product does not contain problematic palm oil is to avoid the stuff altogether. At least until there’s a far better certification available for sustainable palm oil not tainted by human rights abuses.
Certifications for cocoa
How about cocoa certification? Well, things have been improving in recent years, with a major rise in the proportion of cocoa certified by a third-party. Around a quarter of cocoa is now independently audited and certified in some way or other. For many years, UTZ was the major certifying body, followed by Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade. In January 2018, UTZ and Rainforest Alliance merged, and they will be publishing a new certification program this month (June 2020) with audits becoming mandatory mid-2021.
Rainforest Alliance was more of an environmental scheme and had an outright ban on all deforestation. UTZ only had a ban on ‘primary’ or old-growth forest destruction. (In Ghana and Ivory Coast, almost all forest is classed as ‘secondary.’) It will be interesting to see how the merger of UTZ and Rainforest Alliance shakes out in terms of deforestation standards.
Fairtrade is the only certification body that makes specific demands in terms of pricing for cocoa, indeed that is the main focus of Fairtrade, with little mind paid to environmental conditions or other sustainability concerns. Despite this focus, however, Fairtrade does not regulate wages for smallholders employing fewer than 20 or so people, meaning that a significant number of workers continue to be paid far below any legal minimum wage. The Fairtrade logo can also be a bit confusing when it comes to chocolate, given that it may apply to cocoa, sugar, or some other component of a chocolate bar.
Any external auditing makes child labor, slave labor, and other egregious practices less likely. The best option, though, remains avoiding chocolate made with cocoa sourced from West Africa, where even certified cocoa can be problematic.
If you can, avoid chocolate companies that boast their own certification scheme. Without independent auditing there’s just no way of telling how robust such schemes are. Cadbury’s and Hotel Chocolat have such schemes, for example.
Direct trade vs. fair trade
The better option is to look for companies that have a direct connection with farmers as this means farmers are more likely to receive a greater share of profit. While there’s currently no ‘direct trade’ certification, there is a growing appreciation of this business model in the chocolate industry.
Madécasse is a chocolate company that operates with a direct trade ideology, where the company buys cocoa directly from farmers. Divine is another company operating with a direct trade model, with 45% of the company owned by cocoa farmers themselves, so they get a 45% share of any profits. Divine doesn’t make it onto the Leaf Score list though because they source chocolate from West Africa and have been flagged by the Food Empowerment Project as still needing to work on some supply chain issues.
Direct trade helps avoid some of the pitfalls of fair trade and other certifications, giving farmers a higher wage and supporting a healthier, more sustainable (and delicious) product. Indeed, the International Labor Rights Forum recommends buying from chocolate companies who buy directly from farmers. Doing so means that you know where the cocoa comes from and helps cut out the middlemen that take a cut of the farmers’ profits and make chocolate more expensive for the consumer.
It’s also good to look for companies operating with a ‘value added at source’ business model. This acknowledges that a huge amount of the profit in chocolate comes from the manufacturing stage, which is typically carried out far away from the source of the cocoa. Cocoa farmers get about 3-7% of the final retail price of the chocolate, with 40% scooped up by manufacturers.
By adding value at source, i.e. doing at least some of the manufacturing in the country where cocoa is harvested, can dramatically improve livelihoods and raise people out of poverty in poorer countries. This approach isn’t at all common in the chocolate industry, in part because it’s quite difficult to manufacture chocolate in tropical countries where it melts quickly!
How to choose sustainable chocolate
- Chocolate made with cocoa from West Africa
- Chocolate made with palm oil
Favor companies that:
- Are transparent about cocoa sourcing
- Have a direct connection to farmers
- Are owned by cocoa farmers
- Manufacture at source
- Care about packaging and overall environmental footprint
The best eco-friendly & Ethical chocolate: our top picks
Now that I’ve “showed my math” and given you insight into how we rank chocolate, let’s go through our top picks. You can read about our unique research process here.
Highlights: Beyond direct-trade, value-added at source, all vegan, all organic, all delicious eco-friendly, palm oil-free, the sustainable chocolate company always striving to do better than just ‘good.’
- Entire line of products is organic and vegan-friendly
- Small-scale farmers that source the cocoa beans are compensated with more than a fair trade price
- Agroforestry helps to restore the places where ingredients are grown, on top of numerous other conservation efforts
- Nothing comes immediately to mind – this is great sustainable and ethically-sourced chocolate
Madécasse chocolate is not just good, it’s beyond good, which is why the company recently changed their name. This name change is more than just marketing, it’s an accurate description of the company’s overall ethos, operations, and products, which is why they’re my joint overall winner for the best sustainable chocolate.
The entire Beyond Good line is organic, vegan-friendly, and made at the source using heirloom cocoa from Madagascar and single-origin chocolate from Uganda. The cocoa beans are grown by small-scale farmers who Beyond Good compensate with more than a fair trade price; they’ve cut out the middlemen, so more wealth stays in the communities that need it.
The company is also using agroforestry to restore forests and parkland, which benefits the farmers, local wildlife and biodiversity, and helps promote greater sustainability in the chocolate sector. Beyond Good changed their name because they recognized that the global supply chain is broken, with millions of cocoa farmers living in perpetual poverty. The ‘good’ companies are trying to fix the problems by throwing money at certification schemes and Band-Aid solutions. Beyond Good are taking a different approach, trying to fix things at a core, fundamental level instead.
This includes building a chocolate factory in Madagascar, as close as possible to the company’s cocoa farmers. In 2019, Beyond Good made one million bars in their new factory, with the rest made in Europe. In 2020, they aim to substantially increase the number of bars made in their new factory.
In Madagascar, Beyond Good source Criollo cocoa beans from around 100 small-scale farmers. These beans, which typically have a distinctive red bean pod, are the oldest heirloom variety of cocoa known, accounting for less than 3% of global cocoa production. Instead of outsourcing their ethics to a top down Fair Trade model, Beyond Good work with farmers directly, helping them to obtain organic certification, teaching fermentation and drying, buying cocoa at a premium price and developing and maintaining long-term and seemingly quite affectionate relationship (including attending each others’ weddings!).
Beyond Good partnered with Conservation International and the Bristol Zoo to undertake a study into the links between cocoa trees and lemur conservation. Lemurs are endangered and Beyond Good figured that agroforestry might help restore natural habitat. So, rather than just tooting their own horn and claiming their cocoa farms are a boon for biodiversity, they put in the effort to study them. Researchers spent six months embedded with cocoa farmers, sleeping the forest and monitoring animal activity. They found five species of endangered lemurs, 19 species of birds, the Madagascar flying fox, and other animals all supported by the cocoa trees (of which there are now 620 acres) supported by Beyond Good.
As for their Uganda operation, this is a more recent development for the company. They estimate it will take a year to 18 months to set up a proprietary supply chain in the country, and their goal is to commission a chocolate factory in Uganda by 2022, so they can make chocolate at source. They currently have farmer-level transparency with their co-manufacturer and a plan to solidify their own supply chain with the same type of transparent, direct-trade model as they’ve had for years in Madagascar.
This single origin chocolate is made using cocoa beans grown in a far western region of Uganda called Bundibugyo. Beyond Good’s partner here is ICAM, an Italian organization that creates partnerships with cocoa farmers, encouraging organic best practices, supporting certification, and setting up a fermentation facility in the country to help add value and keep profit within Uganda. Beyond Good want to go beyond direct trade and build their chocolate factory, so watch this space.
As for the chocolate, I’d highly recommend trying the Pure Dark, if you’re feeling adventurous. This Madagascan chocolate is 92% cocoa with some serious fruitiness and a bold, forward taste. Less sugar, way more antioxidants, and downright delicious. It’s unlike any chocolate you’ve tasted before.
All Beyond Good chocolate is USDA Organic, Project non-GMO verified, vegan, kosher, soy-free, and gluten-free.
Highlights: Totally vegan, organic, biodynamic, delicious and sustainable chocolate from a company that adds value at source to keep profits in the community where the cocoa is grown and the chocolate produced.
- USDA Organic certified, Beyond Fair Trade certified, vegan, and certified Biodynamic
- Pacari is a B Corporation with Best for the World Honoree awards to show for their efforts
- Despite growth, the company continues to work in small batches and buying from small-scale farmers
- Could be considered a bit expensive to some
Pacari Chocolate was the first chocolate company in the world to receive biodynamic certification from Demeter International and is a family-owned, direct-trade, organic chocolate company making delicious confectionery with a value added at source model that supports the local cocoa-growing community.
Their chocolate is non-GMO, USDA Organic certified, Beyond Fair Trade certified, vegan, certified Biodynamic, and Pacari has been a B Corporation since 2016, winning two Best for the World Honoree awards for 2017 and 2018.
Pacari operates out of Quito, Ecuador, and was founded in 2002 by Santiago Peralta and Carla Barboto, who continue to own and operate the company. Pacari work with cocoa growers to create chocolate pretty much on-site, and their chocolate was the first single-origin organic chocolate made entirely in Ecuador. A true ‘tree to bar’ chocolate like Pacari Chocolate is made, produced and packaged in the developing country where cacao beans actually grow. This ensures that over 50% of the wealth stays in the country of origin (in this case Ecuador).
The company continues to work with small batches, carefully choosing ingredients to make beautiful chocolate. ‘Pacari’ means ‘nature’ in Quechua, an indigenous Andean language, and this really helps sum up the company’s mission to create all-natural, 100% Ecuadorian chocolate. Pacari chocolate is 100% child labor free and the company undergoes annual audits for organic and kosher certification and audits every two years for B Corp certification.
In recent years, Pacari has brought out a Raw Chocolate line, a wider selection of dark chocolate and chocolate featuring flavors from across the Andes. They only use Arriba Nacional cacao, the plants native to Ecuador. The cocoa from these plants is know as having a rich, full taste with fruity and floral notes.
Because they only use this native plant, Pacari are already working to support the ecosystem of Ecuador. They take sustainability seriously and consider the company as having a duty to support health and environmentally sound production. Organic production helps protect the land, the farmers, and the end consumer.
The Demeter Biodynamic Certification ensures that cocoa production occurs in an auto-regenerative ecosystem free from pesticides and fertilizers and which keeps an ecological balance between animals, insects, soil, plants and humans protecting the biodiversity of Ecuador. Pacari only purchases from certified organic farms and works with traditional cocoa growers, not plantations. The cocoa trees on these farms have been growing and cross-pollinating for hundreds of years. This organic system helps to strengthen the resistance of cocoa trees to disease, a key part of sustainable cocoa production.
Because they buy direct from small-scale farmers, Pacari can provide a fair price for their cocoa, paying a significant premium over market prices to reflect the hard work of cocoa growers. They maintain long-term relationships with these farmers and offer support and advice to further enhance sustainability.
What about the chocolate though!?
Pacari’s Regional bars are made with hand-selected organic cocoa beans from specific regions in Ecuador and Latin America. If you approach your chocolate like a sommelier approaches to wine, you’ll have an absolute blast discovering the distinct taste of each terroir. The bars are a rare treat as they are manufactured in limited quantities from select beans unique to the region. It’s no wonder Pacari is an International Chocolate Awards Gold winner, with more than 207 nationwide and international awards for their great-tasting sustainable chocolate.
Pacari offers at least 37 flavors currently, including chocolate with cardamom, rose, Andean blueberries, Allspice, mint, and more. They make mini bars, full-size bars, gift packs, drinking cocoa, gift boxes, chocolate-covered cacao nibs and fruit, superfood chocolate, and even offer subscription boxes so you need never run out of chocolate again! My advice – treat yourself to the gift box containing Pacari’s World Award-winning bars of Raw 70%, Andean Mint, Passion Fruit, Lemon Verbena, Coffee, Andean Rose, Lemongrass, Cuzco Pink Salt & Nibs and dark chocolate covered Golden Berries and Banana.
Most Pacari packaging is 100% recyclable, including their aluminum foil wrapper and cardboard. They’re currently on a mission to entirely eliminate plastic packaging, switching to biodegradable and compostable alternatives, including using eco-friendly packing tape. And, in case you’re wondering why the packaging says ‘may contain’ various things, this is because Ecuadorian law currently requires all food products to contain this disclaimer regardless of production. Pacari maintains that their products are free from wheat, dairy, gluten, refined sugars, nuts, palm oil and soy.
Highlights: Mostly vegan-friendly organic and kosher certified chocolate from a socially responsible and eco-friendly sustainable Seattle-based business that tracks the environmental footprint of every pound of chocolate!
- All ingredients are organic, kosher certified, and 100% soy-free
- Every link from bean to bar is third-party certified
- Partnership has helped Watalinga, Eastern Congo immensely
- Anual impact reports are a fantastic level of transparency
- To counteract the environmental impact of dairy, we’d love to see a bigger vegan selection
Theo is one of the most sustainable chocolate companies around. This Seattle-based business was founded in 2005, released their first chocolate bar in 2006, and is rapidly becoming a fast favorite for eco-friendly and socially responsible chocolate lovers. Their basic ethos is that “the most sustainable cocoa is cocoa that is profitable for the farmers to grow,” and they support this in a whole host of ways. All Theo ingredients are organic and kosher certified and 100% soy-free. This 5-leaf review is for their vegan-friendly offerings only, given the environmental impact of dairy.
For Theo, creating delicious chocolate is an opportunity to have a positive impact. The company was the first organic, For Life fair trade certified chocolate maker in North America with Fair for Life certification too. This means that not only are their ingredients third-party certified, so is their factory and every link in the supply chain from bean to bar. This independent auditing looks at wages, working conditions, environmental impact and other factors, helping Theo to continually improve.
Theo are a direct-trade company, opting out of the global cocoa market and instead partnering with ESCO Kivu and smallholder farms in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (EDRC). The company has invested over $800,000 in infrastructure, cocoa capacity projects, and direct payments to farmers to support higher quality and better yields. This partnership has helped turn Watalinga, Eastern Congo, into a successful organic cocoa growing region, helping displaced people return to their land with a militia-proof crop.
In 2020, the company aims to go further by working with Esco Kivu to determine a cocoa floor price in case the price of cocoa drops in the future. In 2019, Theo’s cocoa purchases were 44% above conventional cocoa prices and 14% above Fairtrade prices, demonstrating a commitment to paying farmers a genuine living wage.
Theo is also active in the US. In 2019, Theo worked with county regulators to create the first cocoa roasting regulations in Washington State. These regulations cover limits for VOCs (volatile organic compounds), smoke opacity, and particulate emissions to prevent environmental impacts from cocoa cleaning and roasting.
They also began tracking the environmental impact of every pound of chocolate made at their factory. In 2019, a pound of Theo chocolate used 0.63 kW of electricity and 0.57 gallons of water to produce. Their goal, now they’re tracking this, is to identify ways to improve energy efficiency and water recycling and reuse. Theo are taking steps to switch their product packaging to entirely plant-based packaging by 2021. Theo began sourcing fair trade sugar in 2014 and coconut in 2016.
At the Seattle office, the company has implemented various sustainability and socially responsible initiatives including composting, supporting community engagement with paid time off for volunteering, and improving safety and benefits for workers. They also offer subsidies for employees choosing more environmentally friendly ways to get to work. Even their cocoa and sugar take an eco-friendly route to Seattle from the DRC and Brazil, coming by boat and rail.
How do I know all this? That’s because Theo has begun publishing an annual impact report, which you can check out on their website, along with additional information on ethical sourcing and community engagement.
A few of Theo’s offerings include Grapefruit Ginger, Root Beer Barrel, and Bread & Chocolate, all of which are vegan, as well as Cinnamon Horchata and Hazelnut Crunch.
Highlights: An almost totally sustainable chocolate company, making a handful of vegan-friendly chocolate in eco-friendly packaging through a direct-trade model with regenerative farming and carbon ‘in-setting.’
- Company aims to be carbon-negative, and uses food to fight for economic and social justice!
- Raw ingredients are all 100% certified organic
- All packaging is recyclable or compostable
- Company doesn’t put much emphasis on the environmental impact of animal agriculture despite being so far ahead in other areas
Never heard of carbon in-setting? You’re not alone. Alter Eco, a largely sustainable chocolate company has adopted a full circle approach to doing business that encompasses environmental and social responsibility and aims to be carbon negative and to use food to fight for economic and social justice. They do this in part by working with their cocoa partners to replant rainforests where the beans grow, factoring carbon offsetting right into the business model at a large scale.
Alter Eco founders Mathieu Senard and Edouard Rollet started the company 15 years ago as social entrepreneurs. They source raw ingredients from farmer-owned coops practicing sustained agriculture, have been 100% certified organic right from the start, and use minimally processed ingredients to create a wide array of delicious chocolate. As proponents of regenerative agriculture, they’re adamantly anti-GMO, with even their compostable packaging non-GMO.
Alter Eco source their ingredients from fair trade farmers in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Sri Lanka, India, and Indonesia. They make their chocolate in Switzerland and their Coconut Clusters in Colorado (so, they’re not a typical value added at source chocolatier, though they add value in other ways).
Some of their ingredients are not fair trade certified because there isn’t a fair trade program for these, but the company claims to ensure they use only sustainable suppliers for such ingredients. This includes taking milk from grass-fed cows rather than grain-fed animals. They talk a lot about the provenance of the milk they use but don’t at any point address the environmental impact of animal agriculture.
The reforestation projects is part of Alter Eco’s effort to become a carbon negative company, i.e. one that more than offsets emissions and actually remove carbon from the atmosphere. To do this, they calculate their carbon footprint every year (Alter Eco’s 2019 carbon footprint was 3,964 tCO2e) and they include this in their sustainability report. They then train their farmer partners in agroforestry and pay them to plant trees on their land, giving extra income to the farmers and even providing a potential retirement plan for them through sustainable forestry once the trees mature.
This agroforestry approach also helps to avoid the monoculture situation on most cocoa farms, and the soil degradation and loss of biodiversity that comes with it. The company is pursuing a pilot program for Regenerative Organic Certification, a holistic system that gives back more than it takes from the land.
Alter Eco have committed to using either recyclable or compostable packaging for all of their products by December 2020 and their chocolate bars are already wrapped in recyclable aluminum and FSC Certified paper. They created a fully compostable stand-up pouch made from renewable, plant-based, non-GMO materials and are part of a coalition to encourage the rest of the food industry to follow suit. It’s this kind of thing that has helped Alter Eco attain B Corp certification since 2009. Indeed, Alter Eco has one of the highest B Corp scores I’ve seen (currently 133.8) and the company has been honored as Best of the World every year since 2013, sometimes in multiple categories.
Their natural flavors are made with plant extracts, with no artificial flavors, regulated allergens, or GMOs. Be aware, though, that Alter Eco’s ‘Dark’ range isn’t totally vegan, unlike with many chocolatiers. The Dark offerings contain 30-90% cocoa and some also contain milk, cream, or other dairy ingredients. The company doesn’t use soy. Alter Eco’s plant-based offerings currently include: Dark Sea Salt, Dark Salted Almonds, Dark Blackout, Dark Super Blackout, Dark Crisp Mint, 90% Superdark Crisp Mint, as well as Dark Quinoa, Rainbow Quinoa, Pearl Quinoa, Black Quinoa, and Red Quinoa.
Highlights: Britain’s most ethical chocolate company, with a direct-trade model, adventurous flavor combinations, and fully compostable packaging.
- Nice range of flavor combinations
- Chocolate is made in small batches
- All packaging is fully compostable
- We’d love to see the vegan options expanded
Seed and Bean was founded in June 2005 and is on a mission to be the most ethical chocolate company in the world. So far, they’ve won the Good Shopper Guide’s award for the most ethical chocolate company in Britain eight years in a row, which is a pretty good start.
Seed and Bean make sustainable chocolate using organic ingredients from small-scale suppliers and are similar to Pacari in terms of adventurous flavor combinations: Orange & Thyme, Lemon & Cardamom, Chilli & Lyme, anyone?
All Seed and Bean chocolate is Fairtrade and most of it is vegan (but not all). The chocolate is palm oil-free too and Seed and Bean use fully compostable packaging, from the outer paper layer to the inner foil layer made from a cellulose film made of eucalyptus pulp. Once you’re done eating your delicious chocolate, feed the wrapper to your compost bin.
Seed and Bean are a bean-to-bar company, sourcing organic beans in Ecuador and then making the chocolate itself in small batches in England. Each batch size is just 45 liters, compared to an industry-standard or around 20-50,000 liters. The cocoa beans are grown in the tropical lowlands of Ecuador and Seed and Bean work with around 400 farmer families to source the Arriba beans.
The company makes a point of knowing its supply chain and ensuring it is free from child labor, with all ingredients traceable. Where available, Seed and Bean use Fairtrade ingredients and all products are certified organic by the Soil Association.
Central Market carries Seed and Bean chocolate in the US, with current offerings including Coconut & Raspberry, Espresso, Cornish Sea Salt, Sicilian, and Sweet Orange & Thyme, all of which are organic and vegan.
Other sustainable chocolate companies to check out
The five companies above represent the best of the best and those most readily available in the US. There are plenty of other companies striving to make sustainable chocolate, though, and I hope to add more info on these as time (and taste-testing!) allows. For now, rest assured that the following brands are on the Food Empowerment Project’s recommended list (as being free of child labor and slave labor), are typically palm oil-free or use responsibly sourced palm oil, and are doing good work in terms of the environment and social enterprise.
Most of the companies below carry certifications for Fair Trade, direct trade, Fair for Life, B Corp, organic, reforesting and carbon neutrality, and so forth. If any of the companies here (or any not listed) want to get in touch with info on their efforts, please let us know!
My choice: Zero waste Salted hazelnut caramel ganache bar (View Price on Zimt)
Or, in the US: Chocolate covered macarons (View Prices on High Vibe)
- Based in Vancouver, BC, Zimt is owned by a friend, so I can personally vouch for the deliciousness of Zimt products and the good ethics of this company.
- Always vegan, always fantastic, Zimt have just opened a chocolate factory of their very own, complete with café!
- Zimt’s new Zero Waste Candy Bar Collection makes use of foodsafe materials already involved in the production process, meaning no new resources are needed to package your chocolate!
My choice: Champagne Truffles (View Price on Amazon)
- Organic, vegan, gluten-free, palm oil-free, and my favorite chocolate truffle company!
- Cocoa sourced from the Dominican Republic and, with the help of Pacari, from Ecuador
- Classic Booja Booja truffle flavors include Espresso, Raspberry, and Blueberry
- Newer flavors are more adventurous – Almond Caramel, Rhubarb & Vanilla Fool, Hazelnut and Banoffee truffles.
My choice: Salty Dark Chocolate (View Price on Amazon)
- Organic, vegan, gluten-free, paleo, non-GMO, and Fair Trade
- No palm oil, dairy, refined sugar, cane sugar, sugar alcohols, soy, or emulsifiers
- Available in Almond Butter Puffed Quinoa, Crunchy Mint, Hazelnut Butter, Orange Vanilla Cashew Butter, Raspberry Jelly Cashew Butter, Simple Chocolate, Vanilla Bean Cashew Butter, and Vanilla Crunch.
My choice: Coconut Butter Keto Cups (View Price on Amazon)
- Specialists in paleo/keto chocolate products including keto cups, bars, and more.
- Only 6 simple ingredients, including MCT oil, providing 10 grams of fat and 1 gram net carbs
- Paleo, vegan and gluten free and available in coffee, hazelnut, almond, and coconut
- 7 cups per pouch – one for each day of the week!
Raaka Virgin Chocolate
My choice: Bourbon Cask Aged Organic Dark Chocolate (View Price on Amazon)
- Vegan, nut-free, soy-free, gluten-free, and organic
- Made in Brooklyn using chocolate from Belize. A 2013 Good Food Award winner.
My choice: Sugar-free Dark Cacao, Keto (View Price on Amazon)
- Specialists in keto-friendly, sugar-free chocolate
- Sweetened with monk fruit (zero-glycemic!)
- Gluten-free, vegan, diabetic friendly, paleo, and non-GMO.
Taza Chocolate (All except bark)
My choice: Organic Mexicano Disc, Chipotle Chili (View Price on Amazon)
- Rustic organic dark Mexican style chocolate discs for making hot or iced chocolate beverages
- Certified USDA Organic, non-GMO, Kosher, and Direct Trade
- Gluten-free, vegan, and soy-free
- Taza use traditional Mexican stone mills to grind their cacao!
Lake Champlain Chocolates
My choice: Spicy Aztec Hot Chocolate (View Price on Amazon)
- B Corporation making premium chocolates in Burlington, Vermont
- Non-GMO, organic, and mostly fair trade and vegan; some products contain honey, dairy, and butter
- I recommend only the following: 57% Dark Chocolate Bar, Spicy Aztec, Sea Salt & Almonds, Raspberries & Dark Chocolate, 72% Dark Chocolate, Peppermint Crunch, Almonds & Dark Chocolate, 80% Dark Chocolate, Cacao Nibs & Dark Chocolate, Toffee & Almond Crunch Bars.
- Supporting fair trade initiatives, utilizing organic ingredients whenever possible, establishing an award-winning company health and wellness program, and donating to local non-profits are just a few of the ways Lake Champlain Chocolates works in pursuit of extraordinary chocolate moments.