Chocolate company aims to help women-owned cooperatives

BIJA Chocolate for sale at the Bellingham Food Co-op. The company helps women obtain organic certification, enabling them to sell processed cocoa globally. // Photo by Nicole Martinson

By Nicole Martinson

Bellingham-based BIJA Chocolates is being recognized nationally for its support of women-owned cacao-processors.

The Today Show featured BIJA Chocolates on their “Small Business Week” segment as one of the most innovative small businesses in America. BIJA was recognized for ethical sourcing and social entrepreneurship to elevate communities around the world.

Co-founders Paul Newman and Ariana Lee-Newman said they chose chocolate because it tends to be a highly-exploited commodity that many people enjoy every day. By directly working with female cacao farmers and processors in the equatorial belt, they are able to create and sell a popular product with a sustainable business program and smaller environmental footprint.

“We came to a place where we decided ‘we want to find a way to couple what we love [organic foods] with a product that gave back to the community,’” Lee-Newman said. “We recognize that products have a real opportunity to help change the world for the better.

“If we could connect people to a product that they love and in the process help support communities around the world then that’s something we would try to do.”

One way BIJA Chocolates helps women do just that is by helping them obtain organic certification through a program they developed called “24 x 25 Organic Certification.”

The program’s goal is to help one to two, women-owned, cacao-processing cooperatives become organically certified every year. This certification helps provide growers and processors with a premium they didn’t have before. It increases their profitability and enables them to sell processed cocoa at a global scale.

“The 24 x 25 program is a target that we set where we want to help 24 women’s cooperatives in the equatorial belt by the year 2025,” Newman said.

BIJA Chocolates works with cooperatives located mostly in the Dominican Republic and elsewhere along the equator.

Partnering with women is important to them because it will help improve the communities their cooperatives are in. These 5-20-acre, women-run processing plants are also close enough to cacao growers that it reduces their environmental footprint substantially.

“The farmers can almost walk their product to the place that the product is processed,” Lee-Newman said.

She said family members don’t have to travel to work, which is sustainable for working families in these regions. Jobs from these plants are centered locally and provide financial viability for the community.

Lee-Newman said she finds it important for their customers to know about BIJA’s ethical sourcing. She said they use the packaging to tell the story of their product, including the direct trade aspect and highlighting the partners working behind the chocolate bars, such as growers or processors.

The BIJA Chocolate website lists their nine flavors: Burnt Maple Crunch, Cherry Chia Crunch, Dark Chocolate Adventure, Espresso & Cacao Nibs, Himalayan Sea Salt, Pure Dark, Sea Salt Almond, Tart Citrus Incaberry, Toasted Coconut and Wild Ginger & Cayenne. They contain five ingredients or less and can be ordered and shipped from their website.

BIJA Chocolate bars are also available at local natural grocery stores throughout Bellingham. Store locations carrying chocolate bars can be found at www.bijachocolates.com 

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