Challenger to Watch: Tony’s Chocolonely

For 100% slave free chocolate

Tony’s Chocolonely is taking on the big boys and girls. Started by investigative journalist Teun (Tony) van de Keuken in 2005, Tony's is an excellent example of what happens when you pair a compelling mission with a dose of intelligent naivety.

During his exploration of the use of child slavery within the cocoa industry, Teun was horrified to discover the numbers involved in the creation of his favourite treat. The current estimate is that 2.1 million children are working in illegal circumstances, trafficking and forced labour in West Africa alone.

On this topic, Teun quickly discovered that the big confectionery multinationals were all talk, no action. Rather than follow suit through his journalism, he created a company that aimed to do quite the opposite.

Amsterdam-based Tony’s Chocolonely has a very clear mission at its heart. One that is their raison d'être, as opposed to token marketing fluff. Tony’s was founded to eradicate child slavery in the cocoa industry and ultimately to change the industry to '100% slave free chocolate.'

Tony's pay an extra premium on top of the Fairtrade premium, so that farmers can earn a living income.

Tony's pay an extra premium on top of the Fairtrade premium, so that farmers can earn a living income.

The team at Tony’s set about creating transparent, fair, long-term relationships with cocoa farmers, from whom they source directly. By eradicating the anonymity that is often conveniently baked into the supply chain, Tony’s takes full responsibility for those involved.

Tony’s has chosen not to invest in traditional marketing, instead it wants to speak directly to the consumer and grow through word of mouth.

For example, the chunky bars, available in 19 flavours, are split unevenly, a design that flips the category convention of evenly sized pieces, and draws attention to unfairness and unethical practice in the industry.

Tony's uneven chocolate design.

Tony's uneven chocolate design.

Despite the heavy topic, Tony’s does not let its serious mission impede its ability to resonate with consumers. After all, chocolate is joyful and to educate consumers about this problem, it needs to excite them first. This means bright, bold packaging and an animated tone of voice.

Its culture has that same energy. This spirit of not taking itself too seriously is visible throughout the company’s philosophy. Everybody has a choco-title, for example, and when the CEO met the King of the Netherlands he was introduced as the Chief Chocolate Officer.

Tony’s continues its transparency in its Annual FAIR Report, which is available on its website and shares detailed information about ethical issues within the industry, the company's mission as well as its business plan and road map.

Tony's range includes 11 classic and 8 limited edition flavours.

Tony's range includes 11 classic and 8 limited edition flavours.

Tony's continue to gather momentum. Global revenue was up 53%, rising from €29.3m to €44.9m as of September 2017. In the US market, where Tony's has been active for just over two years, revenue quadrupled, rising from $550,000 to $ 2.4m in the same period.

Finally the big boys and girls are starting to notice. With full distribution now in place across such a significant market as the US, Tony's revenue target for 2018 is to top $8.5m. The opportunity for Tony's to make an impact, not just on its bottom line, but in its challenge to unfairness in the industry, is huge.

Tony’s Chocolonely is best summed up by its endline ‘crazy about chocolate and serious about people’. Founder Teun van de Keuken's aim was to demonstrate that slave-free chocolate offered a viable business model. Given its current thrust, nobody can doubt it has already achieved that.