Company Creates Cocoa-Free 'Chocolate' to Curb Industry's Environmental and Child Labor Issues

“We love chocolate, we love cocoa, and we love the product that is produced in a sustainable and just way by small-stake farmers,” co-founder Sara Marquart said in an interview

chocolate bar
Photo: Getty

A German-based startup company has made it their mission to produce sustainable "chocolate."

QOA is set to launch the chocolate, grown from other plants, in the hopes of curbing the environmental impact of the cocoa industry as well as the widespread child labor issues in farms. Food scientist Sara Marquart and her entrepreneurial brother are the company co-founders who started the project earlier this year.

"We started making chocolate in my brother's kitchen," Marquart told Fast Company. "We bought seven Thermomixes and set them up on my brother's table."

The cocoa-free chocolate is made using "precision fermentation" of other ingredients, reps told Fast Company.

Marquart and a group of scientists determined the flavor profiles of cocoa to figure out what plants could create the savory treat with the least amount of damage. "We analyze the fingerprint of raw cocoa, fermented cocoa, roasted cocoa, to understand what is making cocoa this unique little bean that has so much flavor?" she said. After determining the ingredients, QOA was able to "extract the building blocks of the flavor and then we reassemble that in a big brewing tank. You can think of it like beer brewing, in a way." The final product is dried and used like regular cocoa beans.

The cofounder revealed during early taste testing, the average rating for their chocolate was a 4.9 out of 10 and "one of the people commented that she had to brush her teeth three times."

However, ratings have since doubled, Marquart told Fast Company. Chocolate sensory experts at research organization Fraunhofer commented that they couldn't taste the difference between the lab-created chocolate and chocolate deriving from the cocoa bean, which is what Marquart made QOA determine, "Okay now we're ready to launch."

The company has started discussion and tastings with major chocolate brands which are scheduled into 2022.

"We love chocolate, we love cocoa, and we love the product that is produced in a sustainable and just way by small-stake farmers," Marquart said. "The only problem is that it's not a scalable approach to make chocolate for the global consumption of chocolate. We're just wanting to offer a solution for mass market chocolate that we can skip the CO2 footprint and the child slavery."

cacao beans
Cocoa beans. Getty

QOA notes on their mission statement page that 1,600,000 children are being forced into labor on cocoa farms, 3,000,000 hectares of rainforest have been destroyed for farms and 27,000 liters of water are used per one kilogram of cocoa.

Large companies pledged 20 years ago to eradicate child labor in cocoa production, but it still continues to be an issue as some distributors have trouble tracking the origins of their cocoa.

Mars can trace only 24 percent of its cocoa back to farms, Hershey can only trace less than 50 percent of its cocoa and Nestlé can only trace 49 percent of its global supply to farms, according to the Washington Post.

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Environmentally, a study at Yale University determined that the Ivory Coast — the world's largest cocoa grower — has lost 80 percent of its forests to cocoa production in the past 50 years.

Chocolate is also the third-highest greenhouse gas producer among food, behind beef and shrimp, per BBC.

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