Family-owned Ritter Sport set a goal of having 100% of their cocoa from certified sustainable sources by 2025. They reached that goal in 2018. What’s next for one of Germany’s favorite chocolate brands?
Ritter Sport has never been a company to leave the details to others. In 1926, when the growing company needed greater ability to transport their chocolate, they started buying trucks. In 2000, when they wanted more sustainable energy, they built their own power plant. And, in 2012, when they wanted sustainable, fairly-traded chocolate, they opened their own cocoa plantation in Nicaragua.
Ritter’s vision for sustainable cocoa started back in the 1990s, when the company began its Cacao-Nica initiative. They realized that current agricultural practices in the cocoa fields led to soil depletion, deforestation, and contributed to a cycle of poverty amongst cacao farmers. The initiative allowed Ritter to support the start of a fairly-traded cacao cooperative, working with 170 farmers in Nicaragua. This cooperative supported fair trade, sustainable farming, and allowed Ritter to directly work with suppliers to improve product quality. Ritter not only pays fair prices, but also pays an additional premium that helps foster economic stability with their farmers.
In 2008, Ritter built a cacao purchasing and drying station in Nicaragua, to monitor product quality and prepare cocoa for export. The station quickly became a community hub, where the Cacao-Nica and related cooperatives and farmers could meet, connect, and support each other.
Finca El Cacao
In 2012, Ritter started El Cacao, their own 2,500 hectare cocoa farm in Nicaragua. They selected the site for the soil quality, climate, and local features like access to water and stone for infrastructure. They built the plantation from the ground up, including nearly 80 kilometers of roads and bridges to connect the site with the community.
Finca El Cacao follows the latest agroforestry practices, seamlessly blending natural and cultivated areas, and attracting local wildlife. Over 1,000 hectares of the site remains natural and uncultivated, while 1,200 hectares are planted with a blend of cacao, banana, guava, and mahogany trees. This mix of plantings creates a healthy microclimate that provides shade and promotes biodiversity, requiring only a minimum of pesticides. The company is careful to work in collaboration with local farmers by importing automation and machinery from Germany, developed in collaboration with Nicaraguan employees, and learning from local farmers about the best ways to grow cocoa and care for the environment. They don’t want to simply be another colonizer, exporting valuable raw materials: they want to build lasting partnerships.
In 2017, the company harvested their first cacao from the site, and they hope the plantation eventually provides 20-25% of their annual mass cocoa supply.
Ritter chose Nicaragua back in the 90s because the climate is ideal for chocolate production, and because, as a smaller company, they felt they could make a bigger impact. In fact, in 2016, partly due to the efforts of Cacao-Nica engagement, the International Cocoa Organization officially listed Nicaragua as one of only 23 countries of origin for fine cocoa, and one of only 9 countries with exports classified as fine flavored cocoa.
What’s Next for Ritter?
Ritter’s sustainability goal was to have 100% of their cocoa sustainably sourced by 2025, defining sustainable cocoa as:
“cocoa certified according to internationally recognised standards such as Rainforest Alliance, fair trade, UTZ, organic, or produced using a process whose requirements do not fall below one or more of these standards, as assessed by an independent party.”
And although Ritter Sport met their certification goal seven years early, the company isn’t done yet. While 100% of their cocoa is now certified, they view that as a starting point. In future years, they plan to work more closely directly with farming organizations and cocoa growers, countries of origin such as the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Peru & Nicaragua, so they can have more insight and influence on how their cocoa is produced, and have more transparency and oversight of their supply chain. Transparency, traceability, and sustainability are the goals that will carry this innovative company into the future.
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