If Theo Chocolate can sort out how to produce foil-wrapped circular chocolates in a facility designed to make chocolate bars, fair-trade Hanukkah gelt could be available in Seattle as early as next year.
"It's a little bit of a puzzle for us," says Debra Music, vice president of sales and marketing for the Fremont-based organic chocolatier. "It's something we've wanted to do for a long time."
A group of Jewish activists earlier this fall began lobbying Theo to make gelt - the chocolate coins that Jewish parents traditionally give their children on Hanukkah - so Seattleites would have an alternative to gelt made with chocolate harvested by child slaves. Since conventional chocolate manufacturers mix cacao from around the world, it's nearly impossible for chocolate buyers to avoid the massive amount of raw chocolate that comes from West Africa, where 100,000 children work on cocoa plantations. The U.S. State Department estimates 10 percent of those child laborers are enslaved.
There are currently two companies worldwide producing fair-trade gelt, but a leader of the local abolitionist movement says the companies can't keep pace with demand.
Gelt has long been on Theo's to-do list, but the coin-making process poses vexing production issues. "It requires a completely different capital investment," Music says, referring to the various nozzles and molds a new chocolate shape requires. Theo would also have to fashion an automated foil-wrapping method in order to produce gelt in-house.
Music says the company has considered partnering with a co-packer, but would have to find a packer which upheld Theo's organic standards.
Phyllis Rosen, a local caterer who's working with the group agitating for fair-trade felt options, is using Theo chocolate to make dark chocolate and milk chocolate gelt for Hanukah. Chocopolis is selling her eight-coin bags for $8.
But Music says Theo is aiming to make gelt in sufficient quantity for national distribution. She says the chocolates become unaffordable if they're not produced on a large scale.
"It would literally be $2 a coin," Music says. "Nobody wants that. Nobody is going to buy that."
Conventional gelt typically retails for about a dime a coin, although volume discounts can bring the price even lower.
Jewish festival dates are determined by the moon, so Hanukkah has a relatively early start next year: The eight-day celebration wraps up more than a week before Christmas. Still, Music hopes to have local, fair-trade gelt ready for the holiday.
"We're working on it," Music says. "We're very excited and we want to make this happen."