Rainforest Alliance Controlled Blending
You do everything in your power to be a good consumer, citizen and conservationist. When you shop, you choose Earth-friendly products endorsed by credible third-party certification bodies. Naturally, you assume that products bearing certification labels like Fair Trade and the Rainforest Alliance actually contain ingredients from farms and forests that meet these organizations’ standards for social, environmental and economic sustainability.
But, that’s not always the case. A certification label on your chocolate bar doesn’t always mean that a product contains 100 percent certified cocoa -- it could mean, for example, that a chocolate company buys 20 percent of its beans from certified farms and is labeling 20 percent of its products (regardless of the actual certified content in each item) with a seal in accordance with a system called “mass balance.” As an alternative, the Rainforest Alliance created a system called “controlled blending.” After you read about both methods, we think you’ll understand why we prefer controlled blending.
Mass balance is a system designed to address logistical problems within the cocoa industry that may otherwise prevent companies from working with sustainability certification systems.
For many large chocolate companies, keeping certified and uncertified cocoa segregated at every stage of production is nearly impossible due to the current configuration of factories and transport containers. Cocoa beans are routinely delivered to factories and collection points in bulk and mixed during the course of shipping and processing. Developing the facilities and mechanisms necessary to ensure the continued segregation of these beans can be prohibitively expensive for many companies.
To cope with these logistical challenges, some certification standards permit companies to source a set amount of certified cocoa and display their label on the same volume of product resulting in a “mass balance.” While some of these goods may not actually contain any certified cocoa, the amount of goods with the certified label does correspond to the amount of certified cocoa purchased by that company.
This system provides some farmer and land-use benefits, but it can be misleading and confusing for conscientious consumers. The mass balance system also lacks traceability; that is, it doesn’t require the auditor to follow the cocoa from the farm to the factory floor.
Mass balance can hurt farmers in the long term, since it allows companies to source their certified cocoa from the least expensive origins and sometimes pay lower premiums. Under this system, companies are not required to source certified cocoa in the same form or quality as that used in their actual chocolate recipes.
While the Rainforest Alliance was aware of the need to facilitate its work with large chocolate companies, it was unwilling to accept the compromises required by a mass balance system. We devised the controlled blending option after extensive consultation with our staff, board of directors and contacts at major chocolate companies.
Companies that use controlled blending may label a product with the Rainforest Alliance Certified™ seal if they source Rainforest Alliance Certified cocoa equal to 100 percent of that product’s total cocoa volume. This volume of certified cocoa is traced directly to the chocolate factory, but it does not need to be segregated within the factory. (Factories that produce an assortment of certified and uncertified chocolate products may contain both Rainforest Alliance Certified and uncertified cocoa.)
Like mass balance, controlled blending eliminates the need for companies to make the sometimes multi-million dollar investments in separate tanks and equipment that would otherwise be required to ensure certified cocoa segregation within a factory. The Rainforest Alliance prefers that companies instead invest in helping more farmers produce their cocoa sustainably.
Controlled blending traces cocoa to the factory gate, whereas the mass balance approach stops tracing cocoa once it leaves the farm. In addition, controlled blending requires “recipe matching” over time -- meaning that companies must source cocoa from the same origins and in the same forms and quantities as the ingredients listed in the recipes for the products on which they wish to display the green frog seal.
Both controlled blending and mass balance systems stimulate demand for certified cocoa by allowing big companies sourcing huge volumes of cocoa to purchase from certified farms, even if companies cannot segregate that cocoa in their facilities. We believe, however, that the Rainforest Alliance’s more rigorous controlled blending traceability system ultimately stimulates greater demand for certified crops by getting traceable certified cocoa into cocoa butter and other high-volume ingredients through recipe matching.
Moreover, the social, economic and environmental standards required to earn the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal are the most comprehensive in existence -- offering the most benefits for communities, wildlife and the environment.
Under the controlled blending option, farmers benefit from the growing demand for Rainforest Alliance Certified cocoa for cocoa butter, cocoa mass, cocoa liquor and other cocoa ingredients. By insisting upon segregated cocoa ingredients in the same forms and quantities all the way to the factory making the chocolate with our seal, controlled blending drives significantly greater demand for certified cocoa, especially in the form of cocoa butter (which represents a significant percentage of the cocoa industry and is otherwise difficult to segregate). This ensures that the farms selling their cocoa for cocoa butter and other ingredients can also benefit from certification.
Controlled blending must be approved by the Rainforest Alliance in advance and may only be used by high-volume consumer chocolate companies that source massive quantities of cocoa to make their products. That means that controlled blending allows us to bring thousands more hectares of farmland under sustainable management -- and every purchase of Rainforest Alliance Certified product helps farmers and farming communities to better protect their environment and supports safe and healthy conditions for smallholder farmers and their families. Without the controlled blending option, many companies would likely not make the investments necessary to buy and use certified sustainable cocoa.
No, currently controlled blending is only permissible for large brands sourcing Rainforest Alliance Certified cocoa.
Does controlled blending guarantee that there is Rainforest Alliance Certified™ cocoa in my chocolate bar?
No -- but, blending ensures that a company’s certified cocoa purchases arrive at the factory throughout the year in the exact forms and quantities that the factory uses to make your Rainforest Alliance Certified chocolate bar.
Companies that use controlled blending in their chocolate products are required to identify the core Rainforest Alliance Certified ingredient (cocoa) under or near the seal on their products. Additionally, they must include a qualifying statement on their product stating that they buy ingredients from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms, without claiming that those ingredients are included in that specific chocolate product. The statement might read something like: “We buy cocoa from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms, helping to protect the environment and farming communities.” After the on-product statement, the company must include a special URL where consumers can go to learn more about the company’s sourcing policy and the limits of traceability using controlled blending. Companies using controlled blending are never permitted to claim that their finished protect contains Rainforest Alliance Certified cocoa.