‘Give back what you take’ sums up New Tree’s mission. This Belgian company does not just want to make chocolate; it wants to make healthy chocolate with surprising flavours. In exchange for what the planet gives us the company advocates a greener and fairer world. We already know that chocolate is healthy, but that chocolate can be responsible and sustainable is new and requires some explanation.
Already as a child Benoît De Bruyn was a nature lover. He studied organic chemistry and worked for a number of large companies. After fourteen years he gave it all up to achieve his own dream: launch a product that is both delicious and healthy and manufacture it with respect of the environment. He decided to make chocolate with several flavours by adding plants and fruits such as lavender, thyme and chili pepper. At the time only classic chocolate bars were available; by combining refined, natural flavours and wholesome ingredients, New Tree created a unique sensory experience. The chocolate not only had to be very high quality, sugar and fat were successfully reduced without ever having to compromise on taste. New Tree was also the first to make spreads without palm oil. Recently, palm oil attracted considerable negative press and many companies have now replaced palm oil with healthier alternatives, but New Tree does away with oil altogether and adds more almond milk.
The business philosophy has three pillars: flavour, health and sustainability. Sustainability for New Tree means strong environmental awareness and social responsibility. Their green logo in the form of a leaf symbolises that vision. David Jesus de Sousa, marketing & sales officer, explains how New Tree translates ‘sustainability’ into reality. “The first aspect, respect for the environment, means that we aim to reduce our impact on the environment before, during and after production. We use only FSC-certified paper sourced from responsibly managed forests. All of our products are printed with vegetable-based inks, which are much less harmful to the environment than traditional petroleum-based inks. The electricity that we use is from renewable sources. We commute by bike and for long-distance journeys we replaced our company fleet with hybrid models ten years ago. That is what we do here. But we also support a reforestation project in northern Ecuador, in the Amazon forest. This is an oil-rich area where the Kichwa live. A ‘wall’ of 200 km of trees is being planted in Sarayuku to mark their land and ensure multinationals do not encroach on it. In other words, the project protects both the inhabitants’ way of life and the biodiversity of the forest. In addition, we decided to fully offset the CO2 emissions of our products and activities, from raw materials production to transportation and distribution. We do this with the assistance of CLIMACT. They calculate our annual emissions and advise us on how to offset the emissions, for instance by funding the construction of windmills in India.”
The second aspect, corporate social responsibility, is both local and global for New Tree. Through Travail & Vie, a social business, twenty people are employed. They package our goods. Further away, New Tree aims to support and protect the small farm communities where it purchases its ingredients. All the cocoa in our organic products is certified fair trade and sourced from only four cooperatives in the Dominican Republic and Peru. David: “Our whole assortment is organic and fair trade, except for the caramel wafers because they do not have any chocolate. We started with this six years ago. We find it important to choose ‘fair’ chocolate. For instance, we hope to stop the conditions under which children have to work on cocoa plantations in Côte d’Ivoire. We opt for fair trade because it pays a fair price so cocoa famers can live off their work.”
New Tree has no direct contact with the producers. Our FLO-certified chocolate is purchased through Callebaut which is in contact with the producers. It took a while before New Tree found the right fair trade chocolate to replace the whole assortment. It took Callebaut more than a year to find the right chocolate that met our quality standards.
“For us fair trade is a plus, an extra. We do not profile ourselves as fair trade chocolate because we believe fair trade is self-evident. For us, all brands should only work with fair trade ingredients. We are more than just fair trade. We stand for taste, for health, for respect of people and nature. Fair trade is just part of that story. New Tree’s goal is to have people enjoy life. Our chocolate is healthier than others and contributes to society and the environment at the same time.”
“Choosing fair trade is not a competitive advantage,” adds David. “We are a small company and only employ five people. Wholesale distribution is not easy and the competition is stiff. You used to be only able to buy chocolate with nuts. Today other brands also offer chocolate with fruits. We try to re-invent ourselves and offer something unique. In Belgium you can find our assortment at the Delhaize and Carrefour supermarkets and in organic shops. We also started with e-commerce and are venturing onto markets in France and the US. In San Francisco we recently opened our own shop, which also serves coffee and salads.
Is he concerned about recent reports about a shortage of cocoa and the fact that chocolate will become ever more expensive? “We are more expensive than a multinational anyway since we produce on such a small scale. In addition we want to support all these sustainable projects. But people who buy our products believe in the success of these projects and are willing to pay more for it.”