SOMETIMES I just love this job.
I was speaking with Rich Bradfield recently, one of the founders of Nova Monda Cacao & Chocolate in Lafayette, Colorado. Of course I couldn’t fully appreciate what they do without trying some of their wonderful products, as dried cacao nibs, a couple of ganaches, a truffle, and then a chocolate bar.
The things I put myself through for my readers.
Nova Monda does indeed make some very special and exclusive products, but that’s just a tiny portion of the story of this company.
The real story is about having a completely ethical supply chain, starting with family farms in South and Central America, in-country processing, shipping, then final product creation here in Colorado. There’s no slave labor involved at any point, and every step is examined closely for its impact on the people, the environment, and the product.
Other chocolate producers, even high-end ones, might opt to work with industrial farms in tropical climates. This can lead to worker treatment that we’d rather not know about, and a product which is more homogeneous and predictable. That may be necessary for high volume producers, but it’s not the course that this company has taken.
Nova Monda selects small family farms and works closely with each one to grow a sustainable crop and harvest and process it in a way which will result in truly special chocolate varieties. Not only is it sustainable agriculture, but more importantly it’s a sustainable business model because nobody is taking advantage of anyone.
It was clear to me from the pictures on the wall that Rich and the others have personal relationships with these growers and processors thousands of miles away. Those folks aren’t just numbers on a spreadsheet.
I was wondering whether they’ve established such an exclusive position that they might be limited by the number of suppliers they can use and the small size of the farms. But although Rich does want to grow the company, he’s not worried about the supply. In fact, he’s excited about the opportunity to bring this kind of ethical sourcing to more farmers who would love the opportunity to succeed without being taken over by the industrial giants.
As you know, one of the most important tests I use for a “values-based business” is how it trades off profit against its other goals. Most companies will tell you that their primary goal is to be profitable, and to meet that end they’ll produce great products which result in happy customers.
What I heard from Rich was slightly different. Of course, they have to produce a profit because that’s what allows the company to continue over the long term. But it’s just one of the pillars of the company which is REALLY about sustainability. Sustainable farms, sustainable relationships, sustainable supply chain, sustainable production which reliably delivers great products. That makes for a sustainable COMPANY, which produces profit by its very nature.
It’s grounded on a deep belief that consumers do indeed care about where their food comes from. But I also see Rich’s deep internal commitment to make a positive impact on the planet. That commitment is going to drive him to continue building this as the most ethical company he possibly can.