Ethiquable, the visionary employee owned company, proves that quality for the taste buds is conducive to sustainability.
It is said that there can not be gastronomy without wine. We could ask ourselves then whether there could be gastronomy without french Patisserie. I am bestowing upon Patisserie a capital P, because it is a concept in itself, not just a pastry.
In fact, people all over France enjoy watching shows on Patisserie so much that it should be used to teach chemistry in high school, and many other valuable concepts. Suddenly, understanding the interest of applied chemistry, students would find interest in this discipline and grades would make leaps and bounds. Patisserie is the perfect symbiosis of science and art, a true da Vincian field.
Patisserie in France is almost a religion. In fact, when the Germans invented the expression « Wie Gott in Frankreich » or «Like God in France » maybe they were thinking of Patisserie. Its delicacy, inventiveness and aesthetics are hard to come across anywhere else in the world, at least with so much abundance. I would even venture to say that the word Gourmandise was created for the sole purpose of allowing all to indulge in this passion without falling prey to remorse or to flames of gluttony. To prove my point, I dare you to find a decent translation of « Gourmandise » in any other language (other than Italian:).
Patisserie itself is also very dependant on one important ingredient without which many of us would be truly depressive, namely chocolate. Imagine a Tiramisu without a fine delicate cocoa powder? It would be like Paris without the Eiffel tower! Or a birthday celebration without a « Gateau aux trois chocolats » or Three chocolate cake? It would be like Christmas without lights!
Hence, when offered the opportunity to discover more about a chocolate maker in South-Western France, my taste buds and neurones started blinking. This was especially enticing as this outfit that focuses on organic products is a SCOP or employee owned company intent on improving social and environmental conditions whilst bringing quality to the palate and pastries.
Ethiquable celebrated its 20 years of existence in 2023 with a revenue of 75M°€. Now, this isn’t Google, but it is certainly much better than most companies I’ve consulted and worked with.
They started off in a small town called Fleurance, in the middle of the Gers department. This is one of the places on earth we can call a « pays de cocagne » where abundance is such that it may be too enticing to make an effort, or so I was told by Armagnac makers. Fruits and vegetables of all kinds are plentiful, one need only walk into the country side to pick them up and enjoy the warmth of the sun still simmering in the figue’s thick and savoury skin.
The project is ambitious: deliver quality goods whilst ensuring equitable pay for growers, often offering them twice the market price for coffee or cocoa beans. Obviously, looking at the growth and the investments, it was visionary in 2003 and it is a winning solution. looking at today's results. And it is only getting better.
One of the fundamentals of gastronomy is starting with quality products. Put in quality, you can get both quality and crap: that is the human factor. Put in crap and you can only get crap, whatever the factor.
But for quality products, you need to value the people. Ethiquable seems to be doing this pretty well, firstly by paying more, but also by working upstream to implicate farmers in the overall process, through cooperatives notably. Different steps are addressed upstream, in Peru for instance, through the development of know-how and a common language to define quality standards. Taste training is on the menu for these key players of the savor chain to understand requirements. Thus, responsibility for ensuring taste is moved upstream and the initial high level of quality and savor isn’t broken down.
Another benefit is that this quality control and tracking allows to put forward a great French concept, that of Terroir: the taste of a product is deeply rooted in the soil and the climate that nourishes it. For instance, we can enjoy an 80% pure chocolate from Equador, an 85% Madagascar, or 88% from Côte d’Ivoire with Ethiquable’s approach. Pure, distinguishable savors! And the percentage is not the origin, it is the amount of chocolate! Now THAT is a chocolate bar!
Moving know-how upstream also allows to ship smaller amounts of greater quality. For, what is the purpose of shipping poor products that will be thrown away once in Fleurance? And downstream, Ethiquable invested €20M in industrial equipment in Fleurance so as to improve its vertical integration and thus be able to increase its ability to innovate.
As Christophe Eberhart told me, being a SCOP, this implied a lot of communication: employees owning a good share of the company meant explaining in great detail and to a great number why the investment made sense.
Though a SCOP requires a lot of communication, confesses Christophe Eberhart, it also offers a lot of implication from employees looking more and more for meaning in their jobs and actions that have an impact, whether on society or the environment. At the same time, they have a production tool they consider theirs, of which they are proud, whilst extending this implication upstream, to cocoa farmers thousands of miles away.
Employees moving away from bull-shit jobs to jobs with meaning, customers moving away from bull-shit chocolate bars to chocolate tablets with taste, producers moving away from bull-shit pay to a constructive retribution, what else can we want!
This is a case to put forward taste as a proponent of economic development, human well-being and sustainability. As I will develop in a soon to come article on Marshmallows, eating less and better is the way to go, and the adulation of taste buds is a necessity!
Vive le Chocolat! Vive le Palais!
Image by Dall.E, prompt "A colorful glass stained window depicting a chocolate bar."
I must confess, I have no idea why this algorithm can't spell chocolate properly.