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What Would Have Happened If Philae Were Nuclear Powered?

pollarda But ... But ... But ... (494 comments)

The solar panels are "green" technology.

I heard through the grapevine that the solar panels narrowly beat out using wind power but they were worried about the wind encountered at such high velocities and the possibility of killing birds.

4 days ago
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MARS, Inc: We Are Running Out of Chocolate

pollarda Re:The Fix: Buy good Chocolate! (322 comments)

I'm a big fan of some of the people who work there. Their heart is truly in the right place. I'm not a fan at all of the company or their chocolate. It is now owned by Emil Capitol which is a huge investment group with literally billions of dollars behind them.

about a week ago
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MARS, Inc: We Are Running Out of Chocolate

pollarda Re:The Fix: Buy good Chocolate! (322 comments)

It is easy to blame the middle men. It is depressing to me when I see various products in the store and I know what everybody down the line is making. For example, with candy (which chocolate is -- at least in mind of the stores product buyers), the wholesale price is 50% of the retail. Distributors take an additional 20-30% of what is left. That's a lot (and not much left for the manufacturer such as myself). There are all sorts of other costs along the way including packaging which is way more expensive than you'd think. This doesn't just have to do with the food industry but every industry. Unfortunately, if you want your products on the shelves, that is simply what it costs to get it there. Many of the people along the way (such as the distributors) do provide a function. Most stores don't want to work directly with the factory for each and every product they sell and it allows them to consolidate shipping. So while it costs, they do provide value. While we make very good chocolate, it certainly isn't a cash cow in terms of a business --- and part of it is because of the hidden costs on what it takes to get your product to the shelf.

about a week ago
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MARS, Inc: We Are Running Out of Chocolate

pollarda Re:The Fix: Buy good Chocolate! (322 comments)

There is a grinder called a "Santha" which works well for small batches of chocolate. It is actually an Indian spice grinder but it works. They are kinda expensive though ($500) so you need to be pretty committed to take it up as a hobby. It produces about 2-4lbs at a time. Takes one to three days.

about a week ago
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MARS, Inc: We Are Running Out of Chocolate

pollarda Re:The Fix: Buy good Chocolate! (322 comments)

Our factory is in Orem. We have a "store" but most of what we do is wholesale to gourmet grocery stores or high-end chefs so our store is open when we are there doing the shipping. Often we are over in the next building (which isn't open to the public) where we are actually making the chocolate.

about a week ago
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MARS, Inc: We Are Running Out of Chocolate

pollarda Re:The Fix: Buy good Chocolate! (322 comments)

I'm not celebrating Hershey's. I don't eat the stuff. But, he did lower the price by adding sugar and milk (and hence removing the cocoa). This made chocolate available to a wider range of people than it had been available to previously. At the same time, he commoditized chocolate which makes it hard for people to understand the immense amount of labor involved and to have them pay enough so that the farmers can be paid as well as they perhaps should be to maintain cocoa as a viable crop.

about a week ago
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MARS, Inc: We Are Running Out of Chocolate

pollarda Re:The Fix: Buy good Chocolate! (322 comments)

Well, part of that has to do with the fact that Hershey's doesn't taste particularly good. I wouldn't pay $2-3 for it either. I agree with the other response using the McDonald's burger analogy. At the same time, there is certainly room in the market for a $6-$10 burger. Yes, they don't sell in the same volume as McDonalds but the customer gets a whole lot more, it tastes better, is better for you, and the ingredients are typically a lot better quality and probably sourced from farmers who care a lot more about what they are doing. If Hershey's tasted better, it would probably be worth the additional few $$$.

about a week ago
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MARS, Inc: We Are Running Out of Chocolate

pollarda Re:The Fix: Buy good Chocolate! (322 comments)

My focus as a chocolate maker is about quality. If you want to produce a quality product (as opposed to a low priced product), you have to be willing to pay what it takes to get the ingredients, materials, and skills that it takes to get it to all happen. Not everything about being a capitalist is about paying the very least -- it is about paying what it takes to get what you want. If you overpay, you are out of business. If you underpay, you won't get what you need and your product will probably suck one or more ways. That is just how the world works.

about a week ago
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MARS, Inc: We Are Running Out of Chocolate

pollarda Re:The Fix: Buy good Chocolate! (322 comments)

There isn't much monopoly that I've ever seen. There are some huge chocolate traders and companies out there. Many have the resources to create hedges so that the market doesn't affect them in the same way it does smaller producers. However, the chocolate business is pretty competitive. There are many brokers and in country cocoa traders. If one cocoa trader isn't paying the farmers as much as another, the farmers will switch. The farmers are typically poor so they don't feel as tied to loyalty as they might otherwise and they follow the price paid. The bigger problem is simply that Hershey's (as an example) has a low-end chocolate bar that they have to run all the ingredients and final products through the supply chain all to have a bar that is $1.00 (or so --- I don't keep track of their price as I don't eat the stuff) by the time it reaches the final customer. This means that they can only offer a price so high to make the numbers work.

So it is about educating the customer so that they will pay more. We (as a company) try to help educate the farmers and help them increase the quality of their cocoa. (Most of the world's cocoa is amazingly poor quality). If the farmers increase the quality of their cocoa, they can charge more. Hopefully, we will get to buy it when they do improve the quality. With good quality cocoa, the farmers can always charge less if they choose or if they have to. With poor quality cocoa, they can never charge more. Quality provides options for the farmers and in my experience really helps improve the self image of the farmers which is an amazing thing to see.

about a week ago
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MARS, Inc: We Are Running Out of Chocolate

pollarda Re:The Fix: Buy good Chocolate! (322 comments)

That's why I said follow the quality. You can't get good quality beans without paying a premium price to the farmers. There is nothing stopping someone from selling crap for way too much though. If the quality is good, the farmers were paid more (and sometimes much more) than they'd be paid otherwise. If the quality isn't good, they might or might not have been paid well.

about a week ago
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MARS, Inc: We Are Running Out of Chocolate

pollarda Re:The Fix: Buy good Chocolate! (322 comments)

I'd look to some of the European manufacturers -- primarily Michel Cluizel, Pralus, Amedei, Domori, Fris-Holm, Valrhona (as I mentioned above they don't use as good cocoa as they used to -- I consider it the bottom of what I'll actually eat). A lot of these would probably only be available in your gourmet / specialty food stores but are well worth seeking out.

about a week ago
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MARS, Inc: We Are Running Out of Chocolate

pollarda Re:The Fix: Buy good Chocolate! (322 comments)

Funny ....

Actually, Hershey's does taste like baby vomit. When Hershey's started, they'd ship in the milk by rail car. By the time that it got to Hershey's (which wasn't that long actually), it had started to spoil. This would create butyric acid -- the primary acid in vomit and is responsible for much of vomits flavor. Today, it isn't made with spoiled milk and the butyric acid is made by treating the milk with enzymes.

So yes, it does taste like baby vomit. Good call. I do have to ask though .... How do you know what baby vomit tastes like??? ;-)

about a week ago
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MARS, Inc: We Are Running Out of Chocolate

pollarda Re:The Fix: Buy good Chocolate! (322 comments)

I answered it as best I could given the limited amount of data I have on their supply chain and not wanting to break down their formula (which is doable) and call my suppliers to find out how much they are paying for their commodity milk and sugar and cocoa butter. This would all take time and I'd probably not be able to answer it with any degree of accuracy until the end of next week and that would be too late to have any reasonable impact or meaning.

about a week ago
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MARS, Inc: We Are Running Out of Chocolate

pollarda Re:The Fix: Buy good Chocolate! (322 comments)

Probably the best widely available chocolate would be Guittard. Guittard is run by Gary Guittard and it was started by his great grandfather in San Francisco during the gold rush. I'm personally good friends with Gary and I know where they buy their beans (not all of them but enough so that I have a good sense as to what is paid and we buy from some of the same farmers.) Guittard buys some very premium cocoas (and some lower grade too.) For their premium cocoas, they pay premium prices. Gary (along with myself) are founding members of Direct Cacao an organization that was set up to promote the direct trade of cocoa with the farmers to help ensure that farmers get paid enough to keep cocoa a viable crop and to help keep quality up.

Lindt actually owns Ghiraldelli which is funny. When you buy San Francisco Chocolate, you are actually buying swiss. I'm familiar where they get some of their beans and their beans generally aren't particularly good quality. Their Madagascar chocolate is made with some of the lowest quality cocoas from Madagascar for example -- they couldn't buy their cocoa from the better growers for example Akkeson's plantation where we, Valrhona, and many of the europoean manufacturers buy their cocoa from.

Chocolate brands to look out for would be IMHO: Michel Cluizel, Pralus, Amedei, Domori, Valrhona (though they don't us as good cocoa as they used to). In the US, I'd look at companies such as Guittard (the big one) and smaller ones such as Amano, Theo, Patric, Rogue, Dandelion, Askinosie, Taza, Ritual, Dick Taylor, Fresco, Patomic, etc. There is a new movement in the US for craft chocolate making much in the same way the beer industry went a few years ago. These companies (and others) are at the forefront and many of their owners truly care about what they are doing and the farmers they work with. Among many of these companies is the desire to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. I've been immensely proud to hear how the owners all want to pay the farmers more. Gary Guittard in one of our Direct Cacao meetings got up and specifically said: "We all need to pay even more to the farmers." I was so proud to be part of a movement where this was being said. The biggest hurdle is to educate the public so that chocolate isn't seen as just another commodity so that the public is willing to pay enough that we can pass that along to the farmers as we would like.

about a week ago
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MARS, Inc: We Are Running Out of Chocolate

pollarda Re:Cocoa futures (322 comments)

The big growth in the chocolate market is in India and China. Neither country have a "chocolate" tradition compared to the rest of world, both countries have an immense amount of people who have larger and larger access to the disposable income needed to enjoy chocolate. Additionally, both are westernizing and adopting western traditions to a greater or lesser degree and clearly chocolate is a very strong part of our "western" tradition. So the large numbers mentioned may not be all that far off. Just think of how China when it started its construction boom affected world copper, cement, and steel prices immensely.

about a week ago
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MARS, Inc: We Are Running Out of Chocolate

pollarda Re:Cocoa futures (322 comments)

They do play the market. Of course, they may not do this transparently or directly as a lot of cocoa is bought though traders who set up various hedges to ensure the stability of the price. So while I'm sure that they play the market some, it is more likely that most of their cocoa is hedged by various traders that they work with. (A friend is VP of the American wing of one of the world's largest cocoa trading houses.)

about a week ago
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MARS, Inc: We Are Running Out of Chocolate

pollarda Re:This is what the Free Market is for (322 comments)

I'm in the chocolate industry (see above) and from what I've heard through my contacts is that the plantations in the Ivory Coast are fairly empty as the workers are all afraid to come to work. This will affect prices somewhat though not too drastically as you can remember that the ports were shut down for most of a harvest year in the Ivory Coast a few years ago. The bigger problem is that this is a long term problem where the farmers are not getting paid enough to make cocoa a viable way to make a living. (Many cocoa farmers have cocoa as one of several crops that they grow or jobs that they have for this reason.)

about a week ago
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MARS, Inc: We Are Running Out of Chocolate

pollarda Re:The Fix: Buy good Chocolate! (322 comments)

I agree. Chocolate was once the domain of the rich and while Milton Hershey commoditized it by adding immense amounts of sugar and milk, I feel convinced it will some day become a specialty product once again that is more of a rare treat rather than the everyday snack.

Here is how it works in terms of labor:
The cocoa trees are highly disease susceptible so there is a lot more work that goes into keeping your cocoa plantation in good shape than say apples or oranges. There is a production of about 1MT / acre of cocoa per year so the land doesn't produce very much per acre as you might expect. Not all the cocoa comes into ripeness at the same time (unlike apples, oranges, etc.) so the farmer has to walk the plantation every few days harvesting each cocoa pod by hand one at a time as each pod becomes ripe. Each cocoa pod equates to about one chocolate bar and must be hand cut from the tree (not picked). The pods are then taken to a central area where they are split by hand and the beans removed and the central stalk taken out again all by hand. The beans are then put into wooden fermentation boxes (3 foot square) where they are fermented typically 5-7 days depending on variety. Each day the beans must be taken out of the boxes, clumps broken up and\ turned over, and then put back in so that they ferment rather than rot. Finally, they must be dried which takes another 5-7 days where they are put out in the sun in the morning and brought back in when it looks like it might rain or in the evening. Some farmers turn the beans every hour. The final price? $1.30/lb Let's look at pecans. The trees are a lot easier to grow, very disease resistant (comparatively) and they are harvested by a vehicle driving up to the tree, grabbing it and shaking it until all the pecans fall out and then they go to the next tree. The price? $4.50/lb if I buy it 1,000/lbs at a time.

Given the labor economics, the amount of cocoa will reduce until the price of the chocolate goes up enough to support higher prices for the farmers. This will happen whether we like it or not. This will also continue to happen as the 3rd world countries industrialize and less labor intensive forms of jobs are available such as working oil fields, mines, and other blue collar and white collar jobs in the various cities.

about a week ago
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MARS, Inc: We Are Running Out of Chocolate

pollarda Re:The Fix: Buy good Chocolate! (322 comments)

Keep in mind that a 3 Musketeers bar is mostly sugar. There isn't much chocolate in it at all. There is just a thin shell of chocolate on the outside (predominately). That chocolate is very sweet. I'd bet it contains no more than 20-30% cocoa. (Our milk chocolate is 35% cocoa which is higher than most.) Most of the rest is sugar. (There is some cocoa butter which sells now for about $4.70/lb as the market is up for cocoa butter right now -- conversely to powder which is down as they move inversely to each other for reasons I've never quite understood.)

This is one thing we have a hard time communicating to chefs. They don't always understand that very good quality chocolate is a lot more affordable than they think. The price per pound is higher -- sometimes a lot higher. At the same time, there often is very little chocolate in the chocolate dessert once you've added flour, eggs, milk, cream, sugar, etc. So they can improve the quality of their dessert --- sometimes significantly -- without as much added price as you'd normally think since the chocolate is diluted by so many other ingredients.

Part of the problem is that there is a mindset that cocoa and chocolate are commodities in the same way that flour and sugar are rather than heavily labor intensive products that should be compared more closely to truffles, vanilla, fine cheeses, etc.all of which are typically carefully handcrafted products in much the same way that cocoa is.

About the locally produced bar -- As I said, you can't make good quality chocolate without good quality cocoa. You can't get good quality cocoa without paying the farmers significantly more. Hence you can not have a "cheap" high quality chocolate where the farmers were paid well. This doesn't always mean that an expensive bar is made with chocolate where the farmers were paid fairly for their cocoa. We all can think of products that were way overpriced for crap. So in general you can have overly priced bad quality chocolate but you can't have under priced good quality chocolate simply because good quality beans are expensive. Pay attention to the quality --- not the price. The price though will follow the quality.

about a week ago

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