The chocolate bar that's ending slavery

The chocolate bar that's ending slavery

Welcome to our new series, The Innovation 50.

Over the coming months, we will be highlighting the companies and brands that are breaking fresh ground in marketing – the true innovators – as nominated by our panel of experts.

You will find challengers and disruptors using original ideas or revisiting existing techniques in a fresh and effective way. Marketing is changing and this series will examine how.

Our series starts on a bitter-sweet note…

Who would have thought chocolate could stop modern slavery, or even needed to? Well here’s the shock – much of the chocolate we eat is produced by two million child slaves working on cocoa plantations in West Africa.

But that’s not the case with Tony’s Chocolonely. The Dutch chocolate brand is on a mission to educate the world about modern slavery while maintaining a sense of fun (the purpose of chocolate, after all) with its slavery-free chocolate.

It is the market leader in the Netherlands and expanding overseas, proving that purpose and profit can go hand-in-hand when the marketing is right.

Journalistic roots

But profit is not the motive at all, says Tony’s Chocolonely Head of Marketing Thecla Schaeffer. The company’s primary goal is to highlight how big chocolate companies source their cocoa from farms that use forced labour supplied by 2.1 million children.

“The first goal of the company is to create awareness of the issue; the goal of selling chocolate is secondary,” she says.

It all started in 2003 when Dutch journalist Teun van de Keuken read about illegal child labour on cocoa farms and was outraged.

His first step was to approach Nestlé with an interesting idea: why not produce a slavery-free chocolate bar? There was little interest. So, with no background in confectionery, he personally produced 5,000 Fairtade, slave-free Tony’s Chocolonely bars.

Since then, over 43 million bars have sold, the brand has expanded to work with more than 6,600 farmers in Ghana and Ivory Coast where 60% of the world’s cocoa comes from, and the company boasts that it has paid more than US$2.3 million in ‘Tony’s premiums’ to farmers – that’s payments above and beyond the Fairtrade premium.

The bar itself tells the story

The brand began with no paid media and still relies on earned media – in keeping with its journalistic roots. Instead, the bar is the media. Open one and you’ll find the segments are uneven sizes. This has raised customer complaints because sharing with friends is always unfair – everyone has an unequal portion.

But this is the point and it starts conversations with customers about unfairness in the chocolate supply chain, child slavery and the need to address these issues. The unequally divided bar tells the story for the brand.

Thecla Schaeffer... finding new ways, voices and media to tell the same story

Tony’s Chocolonely has its own shops in the Netherlands where, before the lockdown, it educated people about the chocolate and the mission. It even held monthly customer events at its offices for this purpose.

People who work for the company see themselves as not just a team but a movement. And so petitions to end child labour have generated reams of PR and it is this that has formed the core of the brand’s successful marketing strategy.

Thecla says, “Today, our focus is on creating our own content on our own channels.”

A recent example is a new video narrated by Idris Elba, whose parents have roots in Ghana and Sierra Leone, and who is deeply aware of the child slavery situation on plantations.

“It’s a one-minute video that’s totally about our mission. It’s a new look and feel for Tony’s Chocolonely and a new expression for our brand. Sadly, the situation hasn’t changed much regarding modern slavery. So we tell the same story but in different ways, with a different voice and a different media, finding like-minded partners who can help amplify the message,” says Thecla.

Tony’s Chocolonely is a marketing innovator because it combines purpose with passion and marketing originality and commercial success has followed. Hopefully an end to child slavery will also follow soon.