ChocoSol Traders isn’t your run-of-the-mill chocolate factory, and founder Michael Sacco is no Willy Wonka. But he does offer life lessons about living harmoniously with the environment through chocolate—except that it’s not your typical chocolate either.
Located in Toronto, ChocoSol Traders is a social enterprise that challenges the sweet tooth with bars made of artisanal dark chocolate that’s roasted, winnowed and stone-ground in-house. ChocoSol’s low-sugar chocolate bars and beverages feature sustainably grown and ethically sourced cacao as well as coffee, vanilla, coconut and other products from indigenous communities in southern Mexico’s Lacondon Jungle and Oaxacan mountains, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Guatemala.
“We are dedicated to offering a socially just, ecological and dignified alternative to the conventional approach to trade, food production and sharing,” according to the company’s mission statement. “This means an ongoing, reflective practice of working in partnership, collaboration and cooperation with growers and communities in the Americas.”
According to The Star, ChocoSol Traders chocolates “might seem unchocolatey to many—a healthful, spiritual, dark and bitter-tasting food and drink hailing from Mexico Profundo, the ancient Indigenous Mayan culture of Mexico.”
Sold online and in farmers markets around Toronto, ChocoSol’s products are, in fact, marketed as foods rather than candy. And in keeping with the company’s environmentally friendly mission, its “chocolistas” use bicycles to grind their chocolate and to power the blenders that mix their chocolate drinks.
As world music website Uma Nota reports, Sacco came up with the idea for ChocoSol Traders while installing a solar concentrator in an indigenous village in southern Mexico. There, a village elder and medicine woman introduced him to her traditional handmade chocolate and locally grown cacao beans. “Upon tasting this ancient form of rustic chocolate with its strong flavors and medicinal bitter kick, Michael, like most northerners, had his expectations blown out of the water, expecting the chocolate to be smooth like a Hershey bar,” said ChocoSol Traders co-owner Mathieu McFadden. “But what he did was scrape the surface of an ancient, beautiful and sacred tradition.”
Before relocating to Toronto, Sacco launched his own chocolate business in Mexico, selling his products in farmers markets around the region. He started out grinding the chocolate by hand but later switched to bicycle-powered grinders. “Bicycles are one of the few human-scale tools that are present and can be repaired everywhere on the planet,” McFadden told Uma Nota. “ChocoSol works with artisanal scale tools as opposed to machines, which displace the workers and disconnect them from the process.”
Uma Nota describes ChocoSol Traders as “a model in social enterprise and in fusing traditional food production approaches with modern applications. They still work directly with various indigenous farmers who specialize in Mayan forest garden techniques, which means organic agriculture drawing on ancient varieties of fruit trees, edible plants and sustainable goods like cacao, coffee, vanilla and cinnamon, which can be traded with ChocoSol and neighboring communities.”
But is the rest of the world ready for healthy chocolate that tastes nothing like your classic Dove bar? Apparently so. ChocoSol’s Jaguar Pure bar, featuring 75 percent albino cacao from the ancient forest gardens of Mexico, won a gold and bronze medal in the International Chocolate Awards Americas Competition last summer, while its Swirl and Crunch bars claimed the bronze.