Session 2 Innovation Salon:  Storytelling and Transparency

Impact Hub Berkeley’s Sustainable Food and Ag Series

by Lawrence Nussbaum, Collaborative Trade Fellow, Impact Hub Berkeley

The ancient art of storytelling is a medium through which we build empathy and connection to the human experience. In relation to our food supply, stories are powerful conduits of information for connecting us with the people, process, and contents related to what we eat.

In our second Collaborative Trade Innovation Salon held on February 17th (as part of Impact Hub Berkeley’s From the Ground Up series), we focused on storytelling as a vehicle to communicate trust and transparency within cocoa and coffee supply chains.  Our session, led by Yellow Seed’s founder, Nancy Zamierowski, brought together industry leaders with informed perspectives on the role of storytelling to support the collective values of the specialty chocolate sector, as well as the larger sustainable food movement (see participant list below). To follow the detailed discussion and emergent themes, see the write-up on the Yellow Seed blog.

More than any other food product, chocolate kindles an experiential joy that could be leveraged as a vehicle to build greater understanding of and connection to the global food supply. The marketplace interest in authentic stories surrounding chocolate – of origin countries, of farming communities, of the maker’s craftsmanship – provides an opportunity to elevate the entire chocolate industry, building better supply chain relationships and consumer appreciation for improvements in quality, ethics, and flavor.

But what does story mean? What level of transparency is required? How is it verified? What is important to know when buying a product and what is important to share when selling a product? These types of questions served as the basis for the open-ended and co-creative dialogue of the Innovation Salon.

Several key themes emerged from the discussion, providing insight on challenges and opportunities as well as potential areas of cooperation for telling compelling and effective stories of collaborative trade that benefit everyone involved.  Highlighted below are some key areas of learning that transpired from the session:

  • Within the chocolate industry, telling a collective story around shared values of sustainable production, improved livelihoods, craftsmanship, genetic diversity, flavor, and quality can support alignment and synergy to help better achieve these goals.
  • Telling this collective story will help achieve differentiation in the marketplace so that craft chocolate will achieve the recognition and distinctions being seen by other craft industries such as craft beer, wine, and specialty coffee.
  • Stories can build deeper points of connection with people and place, increasing value for everyone involved, including the ability for the farmer to get paid a fair wage.
  • Storytelling serves multiple organizational functions (e.g. sales, marketing, reporting, education, supply chain communication), will use different mediums (e.g. packaging, digital communication, events), and be told from different perspectives (e.g. farmers, makers, consumers) depending on this purpose. Collaborative relationships are important for all of these storytelling functions to be effective, accurate, and supportive.  
  • Various levels of authenticity, transparency, representation, and disclosure are associated with these different storytelling functions. For example, sales storytelling may emphasize a simple message of taste and ethics whereas reporting and education may tell a larger story that reveals the challenges and complexities of trade relationships. (e.g. what went wrong). 
  • Packaging drives sales but is a limited vehicle for full transparency in telling individual and collective stories. Quality and flavor of the product itself can serve as a vehicle for connection and empathy, further supporting the collective story of specialty chocolate.
  • Certifications still play an important role because they tell a simplified story through product symbols.  Buyers and producers, however, seek ways to communicate value and preferences beyond what certification can offer.
  • As large brands start to co-opt the story and language used to distinguish craft chocolate, small makers feel the pressure to scale up in order to compete.  This presents many challenges for businesses to remain visible and viable.

As evident in our discussion, storytelling enables trust, transparency, and meaning within the supply chain, but could also be easily manipulated to achieve end goals. This is why truth, authenticity, common language, and shared values are important components of the collaborative trade equation. Whether told through the lens of the committed and hardworking community farmers who grow quality cacao or the craft makers whose ingenuity, passion, and unique life experiences have fostered the growth of this emerging sector, linking authentic stories to a delicious high quality product will further the potential of collaborative trade models to build a better world.

These lessons around storytelling will be incorporated into the larger Collaborative Trade series as we further explore needs, opportunities, and tools that enable joint problem solving, resource sharing, and cooperative structures to achieve common goals in the craft chocolate industry that benefit all of the players involved.


Session 2 Participants:

  • Lucie Argelies, Barefoot College
  • Catherine Campbell, Marker Campbell Consulting
  • Ben Feldman, Haitian Chocolate Project
  • Molly Gore, Dandelion Chocolate
  • Laura Kowler, Solidaridad – remote
  • Pei-Ru Keh, Real Food Real Stories
  • Zohara Mapes Bediz, TCHO
  • Lawrence Nussbuam, Collaborative Trade Fellow, From the Ground Up
  • Mayra Orellana-Powell, Catracha Coffee / Royal Coffee
  • Sunita de Tourreil, The Chocolate Garage

About the Author:

Lawrence Nussbaum is a sustainability professional and natural foods advocate who helps mission-driven companies and organizations create sustainable sourcing solutions, assess environmental and social impacts, and develop creative marketing and communication strategies. Lawrence holds a Masters Degree in Social Ecology from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and has had an active career working for NGOs, private food companies, tech start-ups, and independent consulting firms. As a home chocolate maker, Lawrence has spent the past several years learning about cacao production and the craft chocolate movement; traveling to origin countries, attending conferences and trade shows, and completing course work at the Ecole Chocolat School of Chocolate Arts. He currently serves as the Education Director for the Northwest Chocolate Festival, one of the largest gatherings of craft chocolate makers in the world, and is a Collaborative Trade Fellow at the Berkeley Impact Hub as part of the From the Ground Up Change Accelerator.