Farm-to-bar chocolate in Hawai‘i: connecting multiple disconnections in the cacao-chocolate commodity chain

Authors: Ryan Galt*, University of California, Davis
Topics: Agricultural Geography, Rural Geography, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: Hawai‘i, chocolate, cacao, farm-to-bar, single estate, agritourism
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 5:00 PM
Room: Studio 9, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The world’s chocolate industry has three main disconnections. First, farming and fermentation — the process that brings out the flavors of the cacao bean — occur in the tropics, while almost all chocolate making and most consumption occurs in temperate regions. Second, most chocolate makers are disconnected from the cacao farmers who grow cacao beans; “bulk cacao” is commonly bought and sold by a dozen intermediaries before export, and is traded on the New York and London stock exchanges as a fungible commodity. Third, most chocolate consumers remain ignorant about growing, fermenting, and processing cacao into the final product of chocolate. In contrast to these disconnects, in Hawai‘i, industrialized country characteristics of considerable capital, infrastructure, and consumer demand coincide in a rare combination with growing environments, allowing for the development of single-estate chocolate and chocolate agritourism. Using data from interviews with farm-to-bar grower-makers in Hawai‘i, this paper examines the implications of more direct connections among cacao farming, cacao fermentation, chocolate making, and chocolate consumption. Farm-to-bar growing and making take on diverse characteristics: monocultural and polycultural landscapes, very different organizational models (from single estate to multiple small growers providing a maker), and radically different business philosophies (from profit orientation to “farming until we run out of money”). Despite commonalities of connecting place to flavor, many grower-makers have little connections with other grower-makers. A more cohesive association could advocate for the industry’s collective interests and help push Hawai‘ian farm-to-bar chocolate toward the front of the world’s fine chocolate industry.

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