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Esca Bona Supplier Hero: Cocomama

Hot cocoa and brownie mix company Cocomama sources its cocoa from a cooperative that helps improve the lives of farmers and their communities in the Dominican Republic.

Diana Lovett believes her company Cocomama can help reduce, and possibly even eliminate, extreme poverty, alongside nonprofits, governments and other private businesses. Lovett has seen this poverty firsthand. She spent her junior year of college working with “vulnerable street kids,” as she called them, at the Durban Children’s Home in South Africa. After earning her master’s from the University of Cambridge, she became the director of regional and international affairs at Keep a Child Alive, which helps people with AIDS gain access to life-saving drugs. These and other experiences in social justice instilled a desire within Lovett to improve living conditions for those in need.

Ethical chocolate

The Cocomama founder felt especially drawn to the cocoa industry. The terrible living and working conditions that led to the production of such a seemingly innocent product as chocolate disturbed her. Lovett knew that higher incomes could help farmers and their families improve their surroundings, so she decided to launch a business that would ethically source its cocoa beans.

This led her to FUNDOPO, a cocoa cooperative in the Dominican Republic. The organic, fair-trade collective consists of about 1,500 farmers.  Its revenue goes toward helping farmers earn living wages, learn new skills and invest in their communities. FUNDOPO cocoa is the base of all Cocomama’s products.

The ingredients used in these products are all ethically sourced and carefully traced, often fair-trade certified as well. The Vanilla bean comes from Madagascar, and the Korintje cinnamon comes from Indonesia. Lovett’s company knows exactly how each ingredient gets from the farm to a customer’s shopping cart. Cocomama lists its first promise on its website as, “We will never buy products that hurt people or the planet,” a goal it takes seriously with the selection of ingredients.

“Our point of differentiation is our traceability,” Lovett said. “On the side of our hot cocoa and our baking mixes, we print the name of our co-packer [Tara International and Arro Corporation], so we’re not keeping any secrets. We talk about where our cocoa comes from. Our hypothesis here at Cocomama is that supply chains shouldn’t be secret…The veil of secrecy has allowed unsafe working environments and exploitation of labor, and there’s been a lot of darkness and secrecy.”

Indulgent products

Lovett’s business, launched as Cissé Trading Co. in 2012 in Westchester, New York, and rebranded this year as Cocomama, offers a line of decadent cocoa products. Cocomama’s cookie, brownie and muffin mixes are made with the high-quality, FUNDOPO-sourced cocoa, as are its ever-popular line of flavored hot cocoa mixes. The mixes come in these tempting flavors: signature semisweet chocolate, milk chocolate vanilla bean, dark chocolate peppermint and dark chocolate cinnamon. Cocomama’s products are available online as well as in over 4,000 grocery stores across the country, including select Target and Kroger stores.

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“Pretty much until this point we’ve put all of our efforts into supporting the product at the store level, so promotional activities, demos, coupons, with the rationale being ‘fish where the fish are,’” Lovett said.

Now that those actions have proven successful, Lovett wants to focus more on a digital strategy. Cocomama relaunched its website this fall and is creating a newsletter. The company is also looking to create more effective social media channels, advertising through influencers and paid posts.

“It’s hard when you’re only wholesale…you really don’t know who your customer is,” Lovett said. “But now that we’re starting to do more sales through Amazon, we’re starting to build up our own newsletter, we’re getting a little bit of a better handle of who our customers are, where they live, what they care about, what their values are. It’s really helpful because we can make our message more accessible to our core customers.”

Healthy involvement

Lovett also plans to put more of a focus on sustainability with her products as the company grows. Current packaging is recyclable, and the company supports organic farming practices, but she wants to do more. While she doesn’t pretend that her brownie and cocoa mixes are “healthy,” she pointed out that the desserts eaten in moderation alongside a balanced diet contribute to the health of others, like by giving FUNDOPO the money to build clean drinking water wells in the communities near its crops.

Notably, the company is undertaking these efforts with a small but powerful team of three—Lovett, a mother of two, is Cocomama’s only full-time employee. Even though she has a lot on her plate, Lovett improves farmers' lives and believes Cocomama can transform the way businesses operate their supply chains.

“We have a vision that this is a platform brand for traceability and responsible sourcing and that we can continue to grow that in other ways, through other products that people love,” she said. “But we don’t want to grow too fast and get too far ahead of our feet.”

The Esca Bona Supplier Heroes is a reoccurring feature of suppliers that fuel innovation in the good food supply chain. These features explore the brand story, innovation, supply chain investment, research and partnerships that these companies undertake to improve the food system and consumer health. We select suppliers based on their commitment to the good food movement, their story, their sustainability initiatives, their focus on safe and efficacious ingredients, and their partnerships with their finished product customers.

Esca Bona is an event and brand spearheaded by New Hope Network that champions the good food movement by helping finished product brands improve their supply chain, support the people who create food, and best harness technology and innovation.

If you know of—or are—a supplier with a story to tell, email Sandy Almendarez, editor in chief, Natural Products INSIDER at sandy.almendarez@informa.com.

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