An article by Gareth Priday


You open the wrapper, there’s that evocative smell. Now you take a bite. The chocolate begins to melt in your mouth. Dopamine rushes through your system. Perhaps you’re enjoying the bitterness of dark chocolate, or the velvety feel of the milkier variety. At this point you’re probably not thinking about the fair trade mark or that it’s filled with flavonoids that are protective to your health. You’ve already enjoyed that feel good moment when you made your purchasing decision. 

 

There are different views about what value means this view emphasises the phenomenological experience, which means how you feel in that moment of use. It is co-created between the ecosystem of actors (the chocolatier, packaging experts, brand designer, the retail store, fair trade marks, etc) and you. This is in contrast to the idea of “embedded” value from the industrial revolution. Here value is “added” into something and then destroyed by consumers. Do you feel you destroy value when you use an app on your phone? Although, in the chocolate example the product is consumed, is the value in the destruction or the feeling?

 

We can compare this to other notions of value, like stock market value. Here the value of a company is determined by the market. In some cases algorithms that track indexes and sometimes by people making guesses. Market value has been distorted by central banks printing money, with very few places for the money to be invested where it would yield a return. The long term price/ earnings ratio of the market is a rough measure of how fairly valued it is. When the market crashed in response to COVID-19, the Australian market dropped by roughly a third and the p/e ratio returned to the long term fair market value. That showed us how much the market had been inflated. The market is disconnected from real value and COVID-19 has shown it’s fragility when reality imposes itself. This kind of value doesn’t care about where jobs are, whether products have been tested properly, if a product is used to spread social discord or speed up inequality. It isn’t even really driven by investment in ‘the future’, but speculation and money with nowhere else to go. 

 

We know from climate change projections that chocolate is going to become rarer as the growing areas contract. More generally drought, floods and changing weather conditions are likely to change food production and diets. Locally, we can think and value local! We can value regenerative practices and supporting systems that provide fairer value to farmers and reduce transport distances. Nick Rose, of sustainaustralia.org, points towards food hubs in the US and Brisbane. Another example is the Edithvale Community Grocer that sources local farm produce and distributes boxed produce locally. The experience of value is more than a tomato and its freshness, it is the experience of seasonal food, supporting the local community.

 

Let’s get back to the chocolate. When Cadbury’s decided to close their factory in Dunedin, which was part of a long history of chocolate making in the city, locals tried to buy the rights to continue to make the products. That didn’t work, so they threw their weight behind the small privately held Otago Chocolate Company (OCHO) founded by Liz Rowe. An equity crowdfunding campaign, run by Anna Guenther and the team at pledgeme.com.au, supported by the local council, raised $2m NZ dollars from 3,000 people in 48 hours. OCHO was now in a position to expand. The cash people contributed was an investment in community, jobs and the heritage of chocolate making. It was instrumental in keeping a local ‘superpower’ (chocolate making) in place. No investment is risk free and COVID-19 will no doubt have put pressure on this business too. With an army of local consumers who have already invested in the factory, something they can point to, their prospects are pretty good.

 

As Liz points out, “It takes time for attitudes and taste buds to change, but we have a really strong contingent of supporters who are interested in things like what’s really in chocolate, where it comes from, and our core values. Eliminating the mystery around chocolate and connecting product, place and people is part of a bigger picture.”

 

The same could be argued about investments, it’s going to take time to re-balance investments towards core values; connecting investments to people and place. In Dunedin their chocolate tastes of chocolate, community and a little bit of heritage. Their investment does too. What do your investments ‘taste’ of? Do they reflect your values? Do they build wealth in your community? 

 

If you’d like to know more about community wealth building contact us at Ethical Fields.