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What This Chocolate Scientist Got To Learn From—and Teach—Cacao Farmers in Trinidad and Tobago

Hershey chocolate scientist, Allison Brown, PhD, volunteered to help cacao farmers and business owners in Trinidad and Tobago maximize the value of their crops.

What This Chocolate Scientist Got To Learn From—and Teach—Cacao Farmers in Trinidad and Tobago

Hershey chocolate scientist, Allison Brown, PhD, volunteered to help cacao farmers and business owners in Trinidad and Tobago maximize the value of their crops.

Published 06-11-24

Submitted by The Hershey Company

Two separate photo's of people with cocoa plants

Allison Brown, PhD, Senior Research Scientist, Ingredient Technology

Key Takeaways:

  • The Hershey Company is committed to supporting its employees in learning and developing to their full potential.
  • Through USAID’s Farmer-to-Farmer program, a chocolate scientist at Hershey volunteered to provide technical assistance to cacao farmers and small business owners in Trinidad and Tobago.
  • As a purpose-driven company, Hershey attracts like-minded employees who want to make a positive impact on the world.

When I tell people I’m a chocolate scientist, they often tell me I have the best job in the world. I absolutely agree. I’m so grateful for the places my work takes me and the people I meet. In October 2022, I had the opportunity to participate in an incredibly meaningful program: I volunteered in Trinidad and Tobago, working with cacao farmers and small business owners in the cocoa supply chain to help create value-added products from cocoa through the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Farmer-to-Farmer program.

Helping farmers 

This opportunity arose after I completed my Ph.D. in Food Science with a dual title in International Agriculture and Development. I had written my dissertation on different aspects of fine-flavor cocoa throughout the supply chain and was contacted by Farmer-to-Farmer, a program focused on providing technical assistance to farmers in developing and transitioning countries.

The invitation to Trinidad was especially intriguing to me because of the island’s unique connection to cocoa. Cacao originated in the Amazon Basin and was traded to Mesoamerican people in what is now Mexico and Central America. Two different kinds of genetic groupings co-evolved: Forastero evolved in the Amazon Basin and was disease-resistant, whereas Criollo, which evolved in Mesoamerica, wasn’t as disease-resistant but had unique flavors. These genetic groupings were taken to Trinidad and bred together to create a hybrid genetic grouping known as Trinitario. Trinidad has had such a profound impact on cocoa I knew I had to go and check it out.

During my experience, I spent two weeks working on a rainforest mountaintop that included some wild cacao trees (cool!). The objective was to develop value-added products for the participating farmers and small business owners in the Tri-Valley Region of Trinidad. Already, they make chocolate bars from the cacao they grow, and they wanted to develop more ways to leverage their crop and increase their income. After conducting brainstorming sessions and online searches, we devised ideas for various products. These included chocolate rum balls, a cocoa nib horchata drink spiked with rum, cocoa stout beer and soap made with local cocoa butter. We collected all the ingredients and materials, then made prototypes of the products, and tweaked the recipes and methods. The farmers and small business owners were also looking for ways to reduce sugar in their chocolate bars, an area I focus on at Hershey. We dried and pulverized different tropical fruits to use as a sweetener in their chocolate. We also discussed the importance of consumer input—consumer science was a part of my Ph.D. research—and shared ideas about gaining local Trinbagonian consumer insights. These ideas included hosting focus groups at a local mall and incorporating surveys as part of customer experiences in their shops and cafes.

My goal with this opportunity was to share any insights from my own journey that could assist them on theirs. This involved offering guidance through recipe sharing, equipment recommendations, beer-making demonstrations, networking, and simply providing encouragement—all aimed at empowering them to maximize the resources they have on hand.

Learning about every aspect of cacao while collaborating with the people whose lives revolve around it was an incredibly meaningful experience. I’m grateful that The Hershey Company supported and encouraged me to participate in the program.

A person stood next to a cocoa plant

In pursuit of purpose 

I became a chocolate scientist after years of study, exploration and research. However, the decision stemmed from an incredible discovery. After spending years working in the wine industry, I realized that I wasn’t motivated to innovate within luxury industries. Rather, developing widely accessible products was much more important to me. That’s what led me to cocoa—an industry with parallels to wine, given the shared reliance on agriculture, fermentation, processing and terroir, among other things.

The Hershey Company’s founder, Milton Hershey, had a vision to make chocolate accessible to everyone. His dedication to creating a better world is the foundation for Hershey’s purpose of making more moments of goodness. Our company’s integrity and commitment to endeavors like the Milton Hershey School drew me here. Now, I’m continually motivated by the opportunity to learn about chocolate and help make the cocoa supply chain more resilient and sustainable.

I really do have a pretty great job.

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The Hershey Company

The Hershey Company

The Hershey Company is headquartered in Hershey, Pennsylvania and is an industry-leading snacks company known for making more moments of goodness through its iconic brands, remarkable people and enduring commitment to doing the right thing for its people, planet and communities. Hershey has nearly 20,000 employees in the U.S. and around the world who work every day to deliver delicious, high-quality products. The company has more than 100 brand names in approximately 80 countries worldwide that drive more than $10.4 billion in annual revenues, including Hershey'sReese's, Kit Kat®, Jolly Rancher and Ice Breakers, and fast-growing salty snacks including SkinnyPop, Pirate's Booty and Dot's Homestyle Pretzels.  

For more than 125 years, Hershey has been committed to operating fairly, ethically and sustainably. The candy and snack maker’s founder, Milton Hershey, created Milton Hershey School in 1909 and since then the company has focused on helping children succeed through equitable access to education. 

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