With nearly a century of experience in producing top quality chocolate, Valrhona has come to learn that long term partnerships with its key suppliers are essential in ensuring sustainable quality and supplyValrhona has been producing the chocolate in the small village of Tain L’Hermitage, France since 1922. From the beginning, the company founder and pastry chef Albéric Guironnet was dedicated to the creation of artisan quality chocolate and, for almost a century, Valrhona has created a range of recognisable aromatic profiles by perfecting techniques for enhancing the flavour of rare cocoa beans, grown on land selected for its terroir.
Valrhona scours the world to find the very best raw materials; selects the finest varieties of beans with excellent aromatic potential from a dozen countries; and gives great importance to its long-lasting relationships with its partner-planters, especially in Venezuela where it owns a plantation. Here, Valrhona has also unwrapped a treasured project to save threatened cocoa varieties, particularly Porcelana, a variety of Criollo.
The cocoa tree is very “hard to please”; optimally thriving under an ambient temperature of at least 25°C, in a moist atmosphere containing over 80% humidity, offering significant annual rainfall, ideally around 1800mm, and never-ending shade.
Therefore, cacao trees grow in most countries found between the two tropics and spread over three main continents: South America, Africa and South-East Asia. Africa is the world’s biggest producer with 69% of production, followed by Asia with 18% and America with 13%. In fact, up to 90% of global cocoa bean production comes from plots of five hectares and under, which is why cacao trees grow seasonally in small plantations in May and September.
The cacao is a fragile tree because it is highly dependent on heat and water for its survival. Clusters of small flowers bloom on the branches and trunk during the rainy season, and the tree begins to produce fruits at between three and five years old and lives for around 40 years. But only one flower in around 1,000 produces a pod; the fruit of the cacao tree.
One tree can produce 20 to 80 pods annually. The pods are different shapes – round and oval – and are between 12 to 20cms long. Their colour varies from green to red, with yellow to orange tints as they ripen. Each pod contains around 40 seeds, known as cocoa beans, and each bean is surrounded by a white pulp rich in water, sugar and citric acid.
As an agricultural product, cocoa beans are strongly influenced by their terroir – the environmental conditions, especially soil and climate. The quality of the beans, which are a costly and rare raw material, depends upon the variety chosen, the environment in which the tree is grown, and the expertise of the people who transform it.
There are three main types of cacao tree which differ according to their origins and their characteristics, namely the criollo, foraastero and trinitario. The criollo are fragile cocao trees and they are sensitive to disease. They are rare, accounting for just 5% of global production, but have remarkable aromatic potential. The forastero is widespread and a fairly productive variety, accounting for 80% of global production. They make a chocolate with a strong and pronounced flavour. The trinitario bean comes from the cross-fertilisation of the criollo and forastero varieties, and accounts for 15% of global production. Trinitario results in strong-tasting chocolates.
The Acquisition of Beans
Valrhona selects and grows only high quality cocoa beans from around the world, guaranteeing their character year on year through close and long-term partnerships with suppliers as well as with strict controls at every stage of the process.
Valrhona has long term partnerships directly with the planters and so, unlike many other chocolatiers, it can completely avoid the exploitive cocoa stock markets.
Valrhona established El Pedregal, its first plantation in Venezuela, because it wanted to save an endangered cocoa variety, Porcelana. Today Valrhona’s Venezuelan subsidiary, Socaoven, employs an average of thirty workers over the year, producing 95% of total world production of this cocoa. A second plantation was recently opened in the Dominican Republic.
Very few chocolatiers go so far as to become growers. But in order to learn more about cocoa, oversee its quality, and guarantee its refinement, Valrhona felt it important to master all aspects of the industry.
In addition, the plantation in the Dominican Republic, in Loma Sotavento, some 200km from the capital city Santo Domingo, is a veritable research laboratory for studying farming practices and post-harvest processes such as fermentation and drying.
For more than 30 years, Valrhona has been developing long-term partnerships with cocoa producers and developing projects together for their local communities, with 17 projects in seven producing countries already launched.
In addition to being committed to sustainable and profitable co-development, Valrhona partners with local communities to tackle needs and address issues, such as living conditions, education, and health. Several years ago, as part of sustainability goals with partners, Valrhona launched a programme of initiatives for cocoa growing communities.
Valrhona’s sourcing specialists forge close relationships with growers and their families, remaining available and attentive and intricately involved in all aspects of the relationship. In fact, the pillars of Valrhona’s responsibility include knowing the people and their customs well, dealing with constraints relating to community, cooperative, or local authorities, as well as complying with government actions.
All initiatives that support cocoa-producing communities undergo the same decision-making and implementation process. In parallel, Valrhona continues to take action to develop sincere and engaging partnerships. Thus, 100% of cocoa-bean suppliers have agreed to partner with Valrhona’s social responsibility approach by signing the Responsible Purchasing Charter.
Ensuring a fair price
Thanks to its responsible purchasing policy, Valrhona conveys the sustainable development message to its suppliers. The Buyers Code of Conduct is a document, initiated in 2013, with the aim of guiding buyers to exercise their daily duties in a way that respects the social and environmental commitments of Valrhona (see box) .
In 2014, 80% of Valrhona’s purchase was covered by buyers who have signed the Buyers Code of Conduct. The objective now is to have 100% of Valrhona’s purchases covered by the Buyers Code of Conduct by 2017.
Once the buyers have been trained and have committed to the Code of Conduct, Valrhona seeks out suppliers to join in the process, requesting that they also sign the Sustainable Purchasing Charter.
The Sustainable Purchasing Charter has been rolled out to Valrhona suppliers since 2013. By signing the Charter, suppliers agree to join forces, abide by and apply the social responsibility approach.
Four major topics are addressed in the Charter are labour rights, governance and ethics, respect and protection of the environment, and risk management and food safety.
This Charter is a medium of exchange between suppliers and Valrhona, whose goal is continuous improvement in CSR practices.
A year since its implementation, 34% of Valrhona purchases are from suppliers committed to the Sustainable Purchasing Charter. The aim is to emphasise and maximize the approach, reaching a 70% commitment by 2017.
In 2014, Valrhona decided to launch its first supplier-satisfaction survey. As a means of communication between the company and suppliers, the survey can not only discern their level of satisfaction regarding overall interenterprise collaboration, but also be used to benchmark Valrhona’s performance as their client, and identify areas for improvement and focus.
The goal is to gather opinions and supplier feedback in complete confidentiality, and identify springboards for progress.
Part of the survey is focused specifically on the perception and evaluation of suppliers on CSR commitments, as Valrhona wants to ensure that commercial supplier relationships are influenced by the Buyers Code of Conduct and that these practices are clearly respected and well-known.
The survey is oriented towards assessing the quality level of collaborative relationships, and the degree of trust, transparency, loyalty and commitment that Valrhona demonstrates in relation to its suppliers.
Survey results will help to identify new sources of value creation for Valrhona, its suppliers, and customers.
Buyers Code of Conduct includes:
– Purchase with integrity and ethics, ensuring fair competition and fair treatment of tenders
– Communicate and collaborate effectively and fairly, making sure to provide suppliers with the same quality of information by respecting the contractual frameworks and commitments visà-vis suppliers
– Act sustainably and in solidarity by securing supply sources and applying the social and environmental responsibility criteria when selecting suppliers
– Promote progress and performance plans by developing long-term, mutually beneficial partner relationships, and deploying tools and regular opportunities to share in order to improve Valrhona’s performance