Tony's Chocolonely caused a bit of a stir last month when it launched its cheeky range of limited-edition chocolate bars that had an uncanny resemblance to Mondelēz International's Toblerone, Nestlé's KitKat, Mars' Twix, and Ferrero's Rocher line.
The point was to raise public awareness that the chocolate supply chain is broken, with child labour and modern slavery rife in some parts of the industry. Netflix's Rotten programme also highlights environmental impacts and extreme poverty as a result of an industry that is dominated by just a handful of large companies.
In this article:
- A Sweet Solution
- What's in the Box?
- Is The Sweet Solution Kit A Success?
- Where to Buy Online
A Sweet Solution
Illegal labour is a problem that dogs the supply chains of many confectionery companies - even Tony's Chocolonely openly admit to this here and here. Companies trying hard to eradicate the problem quickly point to the unbalanced playing field that enables big business to change their practice at glacial speeds.
From a corporate perspective, illegal labour is a costly problem to solve, requiring full traceability and visibility over the entire supply chain together with regular monitoring to ensure this work isn't undermined. There's little motivation to move fast, although media coverage over chocolate's dark side - illegal labour, murder, theft, deforestation, and more - can help accelerate the pace of change, as would legislation to hold company's responsible for their supply chains (in essence, mandating full traceability and visibility by law).
Tony's Chocolonely's Sweet Solution kit is a novel piece of marketing, combining its aim of getting more signatures on its petition together with the introduction of four new varieties of milk chocolate bar.
It's a brash marketing campaign, but it grabs attention, as well as newspaper column inches, which is essential to create any sort of change these days.
The campaign fuels further discussions on ethics, on our own consumer habits, and on the role chocolate businesses play in rebuilding a fairer, more equal and more just cocoa supply chain.
Critics were quick to pan the campaign, suggesting Tony's Chocolonely's use of Barry Callebaut as a manufacturing partner undermines its campaigning efforts, as does its relatively low end product price point, and its ambitions to build a chocolate factory-cum-theme park (with the argument that the millions of Euros should instead be directed in a meaningful way to their farmers).
The Times also reported that Slave Free Chocolate removed Tony's Chocolonely from its list over the company's relationship with Barry Callebaut (even though that has been public knowledge for some time). You can read Tony's' response here.
What's in the Box?
I attempted to purchase the now-banned bars from my local Sainsbury's store - aided by a couple of local tip-offs from my Instagram friends, but the stand had been cleared off the shop floor just before I arrived. Maybe they heard I was on the prowl?!
Thankfully, Tony's Chocolonely sent over a spare box so I could enjoy the same experience as those customers purchasing its £16 box online.
This self-branded activist kit contains more than just four chocolate bars (although the chocolate is the main reason to buy this kit).
Its goal is to get you to sign up to the Tony's Chocolonely petition to enshrine 100% slave-free chocolate into law. To date, 59,754 people have called for "governments to hold companies accountable by law for illegal child labour and modern slavery in their supply chains."
There's a double-sided text-based poster (in red and blue), together with a couple of postcards, which explain the problem and includes the petition's website address and QR code.
There's a small sheet of stickers (that my seven-year-old nabbed) as well as a booklet that provides a bit more explanation on the rationale behind this campaign. It's full of statistics - such as "1.56 million children working illegally in Ghana and the Ivory Coast" - as well as ideas on how to spread the message far and wide.
Beneath all of this sits the four bars of chocolate, held in place by a cardboard template.
Interestingly, while the packaging of each bar heavily draws inspiration from four major chocolate brands, Tony's has omitted catchy product names for each of the bars, simply describing them by their long-winded legal names. No play on words, no funny puns, just a stylised Tony's logo on the front and a product description on the back.
The bars are all made in Belgium using traceable Fairtrade West African cocoa beans. The bars weigh in at 180g each, and are each packaged in recyclable packaging (thick paper sleeves with golden heat-sealed foil inner wrappers).
These four Belgian milk chocolate bars are suitable for vegetarians. There's a chance that these bars might contain traces of nuts, even if they're not listed in the recipe.
Let's take a closer look at each of the bars. Before I get in to it, even Tony's themselves openly admit these bars might not taste like their famous counterparts. Consider these bars as Tony's' take on some well-known classics rather than an attempt to nail the original flavours.
Tony's Chocolonely 32% Milk Chocolate with Waffle & Cookie Pieces
Tony's Chocolonely Milk Chocolate with Waffle & Cookie Pieces ingredients:
Sugar, dried whole milk, cocoa butter, waffle pieces (14%) (wheat flour, sugar, cocoa butter, skimmed cocoa powder, coconut oil, emulsifier (lecithin), whole egg, salt, antioxidant (ascorbic acid)), cocoa mass, crunchy cookies (3%) (wheat flour, sugar, concentrated butter, lactose, milk protein, salt, malt extract (barley), raising agent (sodium hydrogen carbonate)), emulsifier (soya lecithin). Cocoa solids: 32% minimum.
- What is it? The packaging draws inspiration from Nestlé's KitKat wrappers, so it's safe to say this bar should be a mix of milk chocolate and wafers (well, waffles and cookie pieces in this case).
- Sugars: 49%
- Certification: Fairtrade cocoa and sugar, with the sugar using the mass balance method totalling 64%.
- What is it like? A familiar buttery aroma bleeds from this bar, as it does for the each of the remaining bars in this collection thanks to a shared 32% milk chocolate base. The flavour of the sweet chocolate itself yields general cocoa notes together with a faint hint of caramel notes, which is typical of chocolate I've tasted that is made using West African beans. Add in the waffle and cookie pieces and out of the four bars, this one tastes closest to its inspiration bar. The flavour of the inclusions adds a gentle malty flavour with a hint of the flavour of wafers, while texturally they add crunch. The chunky nature of the chocolate dwarfs the inclusions, so, this feels more chocolate-heavy than a KitKat (a win for those that reckon there's not enough chocolate on a KitKat).
- Verdict: Very close to the taste of the real deal, albeit with a different texture. The Waffle & Cookie Pieces bar would be a good addition to the permanent range.
Tony's Chocolonely 32% Milk Chocolate with Almond Honey Nougat Pieces
Tony's Chocolonely Milk Chocolate with Almond Honey Nougat Pieces ingredients:
Sugar, dried whole milk, cocoa butter, cocoa mass, 10% nougat (cane sugar, glucose syrup, almonds (2%), potato starch, honey (0.1%), cocoa butter, egg white), emulsifier (soya lecithin). Cocoa solids: 32% minimum.
- What is it? The sleeve draws inspiration from Mondelēz International's Toblerone packaging, so this bar should be a simple blend of milk chocolate and nougat pieces.
- Sugars: 51%
- Certification: Fairtrade cocoa and sugar, with the sugar using the mass balance method totalling 73%.
- What is it like? This uses the 32% milk chocolate base and again, it delivers the same aroma and flavour. The inclusion of crunchy and slightly chewy flecks of almond honey nougat adds a similar texture to that of a Toblerone. The chunky size of Toblerone's triangles compare well to the chunky depth of Tony's' bars too.
- Verdict: Overall, while it's a good match texturally, the flavour feels a little flat and a little uninteresting. For me, it's missing something to liven things up although I can't put my finger on what that is.
Tony's Chocolonely 32% Milk Chocolate with Hazelnut Pieces, Hazelnut Paste & Cookie Pieces
Tony's Chocolonely Milk Chocolate with Hazelnut Pieces, Hazelnut Paste & Cookie Pieces ingredients:
Sugar, dried whole milk, cocoa butter, cocoa mass, hazelnut (8%), hazelnut paste (5%), crunchy cookie (4%) (wheat flour, sugar, concentrated butter, lactose, milk protein, salt, malt extract (barley), raising agent (sodium hydrogen carbonate)), emulsifier (soya lecithin). Cocoa solids: 32% minimum.
- What is it? Believe it or not, this packaging draws inspiration from Ferrero's Ferroro Rocher packaging (no, I couldn't see it at first either). This recipe combines milk chocolate with hazelnuts and hazelnut paste, with a dash of cookie pieces to presumably enhance the crunchy properties.
- Sugars: 44%
- Certification: Fairtrade cocoa and sugar, with the sugar using the mass balance method totalling 63%.
- What is it like? It's not easy turning little round balls of hazelnut and chocolate into a bar, but Tony's has managed it. Again, it shares the same milk chocolate base as the other bars and again, it offers the same fragrance and flavour nuances. But this bar is different, thanks to the addition of bags of roasted hazelnut flavour. It's a wonderful balance between sweet chocolate and flavourful hazelnuts, with a lot of bang for your buck. The cookie pieces add extra crunch for effect.
- Verdict: Honestly, it's not a great match to the iconic Ferroro Rocher, but the shape (sphere versus bar) was always going to impact on this. However, this bar has legs, and is a really good hazelnut milk chocolate bar that demands permanent status in the main range. Add in a handful of raisins and Tony's has got itself a very good fruit and nut bar.
Tony's Chocolonely 32% Milk Chocolate with Caramel & Biscuit Pieces
Tony's Chocolonely Milk Chocolate with Caramel & Biscuit Pieces ingredients:
Sugar, dried whole milk, cocoa butter, cocoa mass, biscuit (9%) (wheat flour, sugar, butter, glucose syrup, skimmed milk powder, dextrose, rising agent (ammonium carbonates), salt, whole milk powder, emulsifier (sunflower lecithin)), caramel (6%) (sugar, sweetened condensed milk, glucose syrup, salted butter), cocoa butter, stabiliser (carraghenans), salt, emulsifier (sunflower lecithin)), emulsifier (soya lecithin). Cocoa solids: 32% minimum.
- What is it? The final bar draws inspiration from the everlasting debate between whether Mars' Left Twix or Right Twix tastes better. This bar fuses together milk chocolate with caramel pieces and crunchy biscuit pieces.
- Sugars: 49%
- Certification: Fairtrade cocoa and sugar, with the sugar using the mass balance method totalling 65%.
- What is it like? This one uses the same mould as the KitKat-inspired bar, as well as the same 32% milk chocolate base. Again, the chocolate lends its familiar aroma and flavour. Rather than opt for some sort of runny caramel, Tony's plumped for chewy caramel and crunchy biscuit pieces instead. They work well together to create a bar that embodies the spirit of a Twix bar but misses on both texture and flavour. It's a fun and whimsical bar, but I think it needs a runny caramel component to bring it to life.
- Verdict: It draws on the caramel, biscuit and milk chocolate components from a Twix bar and rebuilds it with a Tony's twist. It's a moreish bar although it feels like it's missing something, such as a runny caramel filling or perhaps some chew courtesy of pump raisins?
Is The Sweet Solution Kit A Success?
Let's be honest, this Sweet Solution kit alone will not rid the cocoa supply chain of child labour or modern slavery. No single product can achieve this, no matter how ambitious its goals or philanthropic its motives.
But equally, to write it off purely because it cannot single-handedly achieve the brand's mission statement would be wrong too. It's a small piece in a giant puzzle, and I think the overall concept here is a positive one.
For some, Tony's' association with its manufacturing partner is enough to discredit all its actions, no matter how well-meaning they are. Talk to bean-to-bar chocolate makers and they'll tell you that £3.98 for a 180g bar of chocolate (£2.21/100g) is woefully too cheap to deliver meaningful benefits to its Fairtrade farmers. Yet even this price band is deemed too expensive by some of the very customers that need to be convinced to change their purchasing habits.
Others will question why these bars use fully traceable Fairtrade cocoa yet a blend of Fairtrade and non-Fairtrade sugars (the sugar supply chain has similar imbalances to the cocoa chain).
As for production, I'd like to see it move from Belgium to The Netherlands, and if Tony's' Circus is the vehicle to make that happen (a production and PR machine all rolled into one), then so be it. The theme park would be a very powerful - and visible - marketing vehicle that will undoubtedly help offset some of the operational costs. Post-Covid, I can see many foodies from around the globe descending on Amsterdam to enjoy a chocolate tour alongside many other food and drink experiences, such as a visit to the Heineken Museum or a trip aboard the Pannekoekenboot, on a short break (myself included - although I draw the line at roller-coasters).
The end of child and slave labour is long overdue, as is the time when cocoa farmers are fairly and honestly compensated for the crops that are so vital to feed our insatiable appetite. It's something that requires the buy-in of the dominant chocolate businesses, political will, and a marked adjustment in consumer behaviour. Squaring the circle is no easy task, but chip away at it enough and we might get there in the end.
In my opening remarks, I suggested any publicity is good publicity. Publicity can be bigger than the product itself, and the fact that Sainsbury's declined to stock the lines (for whatever reasons) has only intensified demand for these kits. That's more people seeking to buy a box of lookalike chocolate bars. That's more opportunities to convert buyers from the cheaper end of the market (the sub-£1/100g category) to a slightly more expensive product with more tangible on-the-ground benefits.
If a brazen publicity stunt is what it takes to educate consumers on the cost of their cheap chocolate, then so be it. If it then leads them to discovering their local bean-to-bar makers that take the concept of ethical chocolate to the next level, isn't that a positive, meaningful and longer-lasting step change?
Once consumers start questioning where all their chocolate comes from, they become more empowered to make smarter purchasing decisions, seeking out fully-ethical, fully-traceable, fully-sustainable chocolate alternatives. That's a very good thing in my book.
You might disagree - and I'd encourage you to share your thoughts in the comments below regardless of which side of the argument you are on.
I think this Sweet Solution kit is a positive step forward. Yes, it's cheeky and probably toes a legal grey line (although I reckon it's no worse than some supermarket own-label brands), but it has sparked a debate, only fuelled further by it being "banned" by a British supermarket.
I believe this campaign is well-meaning, and bold, even by Tony's Chocolonely standards. Will it change the world overnight? No. Will it change consumer habits of those previously unaware of the illegal labour issues? Perhaps. Did they come up with a couple of tasty recipes (Waffle & Cookie Pieces and Hazelnut Pieces, Hazelnut Paste & Cookie Pieces) that should absolutely become core bars in the range? Definitely!
Tony's Chocolonely Sweet Success Review
RRP: £15.94 | Tony's Chocolonely | Shop now
The Sweet Solution kit contains useful information on the prevalence of illegal labour in the cocoa supply chain and includes flyers, posters and stickers to help spread the word. This bold publicity stunt by Tony's Chocolonely has produced four new bars, all of which would very happily sit in their core product range. I would happily chomp my way through box loads of hazelnut and waffle/cookie bars.
Where to Buy Online
If you want to get hold of your own Sweet Solution kit, you'll need to keep your eyes peeled on this page here (£15.94). The kits are so popular they fly off the virtual shelves each time pre-orders are opened.
The website advises that the extra paper materials are limited, so Tony's Chocolonely may well begin to send out just the four bars soon without the extra gubbins. A digital version of the Sweet Solution kit is available here though.
Other Tony's Chocolonely bars are available, both direct on their website and on marketplaces like eBay and Amazon, and all contribute to the same goal. They can also be found on independent baby clothing, giftware and ethical product websites too.
Tony's Chocolonely is best known for its chunky, difficult-to-break-up 180g chocolate bars but also produces a handful of smaller 47g to 50g bars too.
Do you think Tony's' Sweet Solution campaign will make a difference? Should they not have bothered or is it important that they continue to bang the drum for slave-free cocoa? Let me know in a comment below.