Green & Black's launches the range that is neither organic nor Fairtrade

04 August 2017

Green and Black's velvet range
Photo: Green & Black's / Mondelez

Green & Black’s has launched its new 70% dark chocolate ‘Velvet’ bar. The announcement of this bar caused something of a storm because it was to be the first move by the brand away from organic and Fairtrade cocoa. That’s no small deal. After all, Green and Black’s Maya Gold range was the very first chocolate in the UK to achieve Fairtrade certification. It was seven and a half years ago that Fairtrade celebrated the decision to move the entire range onto the same footing.

But Green & Black’s already produces a 70% dark chocolate bar? So what does ‘Velvet’ bring to the range? According to the company, it’s essentially a dark chocolate for people who, um, don’t like dark chocolate. Well, maybe that’s unfair. Let’s use their words.

“We know that whilst many people love dark chocolate, others sometimes find the taste a little bitter. So, we scoured the globe to find the right cocoa beans to create the unique taste profile of Green & Black’s Velvet Edition. A dark 70% chocolate that is rich in cocoa content, yet exceptionally smooth in flavour.”

The first thing to note is that the new range is heavily promoted as using ‘ethically sourced cocoa’. It doesn’t use Fairtrade, but it is externally verified to the company’s own ‘Cocoa Life’ programme, which is run in partnership with Fairtrade. Cocoa Life says that it will invest $400m by 2022 to improve the lives of 200,000 cocoa farmers. One of the founders of Green and Blacks, still employed as a consultant after the company was bought by Cadbury (which was bought by Kraft which became Mondelez) described it as “Fairtrade with knobs and whistles on”. 

It may well be that the new programme deserves to be judged over time on its own merits.

It has also been stated that it simply wasn’t possible to source organic cocoa in the quantity needed for the new bars. When such things have been said in the past, of course, they have often come with statements of intent to create the capacity to do so in the future. Such statements of intent are currently absent. But so far, the company has said that its existing range will remain organic and Fairtrade. 

Is this really a big deal? The company founders say not. Fairtrade is part of the new arrangement, and seems happy (although some suggest that they have little choice as such a large part of their income is tied to the mainstream chocolate operation). And it may well be that the new programme deserves to be judged over time on its own merits.

Nevertheless, Green and Black’s will certainly see some backlash. Not all ethical consumers look deeply into such matters, and after the initial announcement - even though all the details were available - there were plenty who took to twitter to swear that since the company was “turning against” Fairtrade, they would never again buy one of its bars. How representative such sentiments are - and whether they actually turn into action - remains to be seen.

In the mean time, what about the taste of the new product? Have we achieved a fantastic high-quality velvety product that makes dark chocolate even more of a joy? Or is it just the dumbing down of dark chocolate to appeal to people who really don’t care for the good stuff?

When I tried it, I must say it brought to mind my childhood memories of Bournville dark chocolate which - maybe incorrectly - I have filed away as a smooth dark chocolate that didn't carry the bitter long-finish flavour that I now look for. And obviously that's exactly the brief they're aiming to fill. It's certainly nice enough - Green and Black's produce good quality chocolate and I never thought that would be sacrificed. Having tried it, I would certainly stick to the original lines for now.