Traceability connects consumers to producers

Posted by Paul May on 24 March 2014


Last year, the crisis response by marketers to the discovery of horsemeat everywhere from Tesco to school dinners pushed food provenance into the mainstream.  This is likely to have cemented a general food industry trend, which has seen the rise in single origin coffees and other products – highly sought after by increasingly discerning, quality conscious consumers. Knowing your supply chain has become much more than a risk management strategy to safeguard against food safety issues or child exploitation. It has become central to the marketing offer of countless products, as well as to the identity of an increasing number of brands.

When Twin we set up Divine Chocolate with farmer ownership at its heart back in 1997, Divine stood out as innovative firebrand in the Fairtrade consumer market. Today, Divine’s continued success centres on storytelling and the consumer’s connection to the growers – members of the Kuapa Kokoo cocoa cooperative in Ghana. This is only possible thanks to full physical traceability of the raw commodity; without it credibility would be lost and consumers would eventually lose trust.

To maintain full traceability throughout the production process, factories contracted by Divine have to flush out production lines for exclusive use by Divine. Although this comes at cost, full traceability also earns the Divine a premium; consumers are brand loyal thanks to the tangible connection they feel to the farmers backed up by the guarantee of physical traceability. The farmers themselves also have a lot to gain from being visible partners in the supply chain. Raw commodities have traditionally been viewed as interchangeable in global markets. Provenance brings product differentiation to commodities, adding value for producers and incentivising investment in quality.

Quality is a key area of Twin’s work in supporting smallholder access to value-added international markets. It is not surprising that many cocoa farmers have little insight into which agricultural and post-harvest processing practices result in the best-tasting cocoa when most of them will have never seen, let alone eaten a chocolate bar made from their own beans. Traceability is therefore essential for quality management systems that seek to progressively improve quality, rather than just weed out a bad batch. The Kuapa Kokoo cooperative has 80,000 members, but can trace its cocoa beans back from its huge depots to individual farmer groups thanks to the unique code printed on each sack. This creates a quality management feedback loop – so that if, for example, moisture levels are too high, training on improving drying practices can be targeted to where it is needed.

Traceability therefore works to everyone’s advantage: consumers can connect with producers and hear their story; brands can manage risk, create trust, and market provenance; and producers can improve quality and access more value. Traceability therefore encourages transparent, long-term trading relationships that benefit all actors in the value chain. When an origin is integral to the brand, traceability becomes indispensible and trading relationships become more equal, empowering producers with a fuller understanding of the market and a stronger footing in the value chain through visibility.

Case study: Women’s Coffee

Twin has defined two main types of ‘Women’s Coffee’ – the first is grown solely by (and is traceable to) women farmers and the second is produced by both men and women but includes a premium on sale of the coffee for women’s empowerment. Both types can provide extra income for women and fund projects that can give women greater opportunities and a greater say – in the home and within producer organisations. The fully traceable model has the added advantage in that it promotes the position and membership of women in producer organisations, which in itself can enable women to access greater support and training, as well as building confidence. But crucially, these women are directly associated with the end product, giving them a sense of pride in their work, as well as creating a connection between women consumers and producers. Twin has recently launched a fully-traceable women’s coffee in partnership with Sainsbury’s for International Women’s Day and works in partnership with Equal Exchange to supply their ‘Grown by Women’ coffee range, which continues to show growth above all other Equal Exchange coffee lines.