This article was originally published in February 2018
Joe Whinney’s first exposure to cocoa farming came through a volunteer position with a South American conservation foundation in the mid-1990s. His early experience tracking cocoa pods in the rain forest catapulted a career into chocolate. Working with farmers across the African and South American equatorial “cocoa belt,” Joe saw firsthand the ways that cocoa famers are impacted by poverty and a lack of access to basic education, nutrition and healthcare.
Joe wanted to create a just and transparent chocolate supply chain that “lets us feel good about doing things that are delicious and right for each other and the planet.” He shared his vision with social marketing and brand-building powerhouse Debra Music, and the two relocated from Cambridge, Massachusetts to Seattle to start Theo Chocolate in 2006.
With Theo, Deb and Joe created the first organic, fair trade, non-GMO certified bean to bar chocolate company in North America, setting new standards for the industry. Since then, Debra says, “we have remained true to our North Star, the vision and mission of the company, and in many ways, we have influenced and inspired other bean-to-bar chocolate makers to emphasize responsible sourcing.”
Theo works with cocoa farmer groups and grower cooperatives around the world, providing technical resources and training to help improve the quality of life in cocoa-farming communities and to help growers produce the best-tasting beans. All of Theo’s ingredients are screened and verified by third parties to ensure they meet high social and environmental responsibility standards. Growers are treated fairly, paid well, and serve as stewards of the land, practicing sustainable farming techniques.
“The other top six or seven brands in the natural and organic category are buying finished chocolate that someone else made and wrapping it in a label,” explains Debra. “Unlike our biggest competitors, we make our own chocolate. We invest in our supply chain, in the highest quality organic ingredients, in our manufacturing practices and in our team. It’s hard to see all of that when you are looking at a chocolate bar on the shelf, but our values have always set Theo apart.”
Not only is Theo Chocolate good for workers and the planet, dark chocolate is good for our bodies, too. Cocoa beans contain flavanols, a naturally occurring nutrient known to improve blood vessel function and brain health.
Debra’s favorite chocolate? The 70 percent salted dark chocolate and the 45 percent milk. “They are just perfect in my estimation,” she says.