Where our food comes from and how it’s made hasn’t always been a priority. In the chocolate and cocoa industry especially, the reluctance to deal with the ethics of cocoa farming means a reported 1.56 million children are still working illegally in the international cocoa industry. In the mid-2000s, Amsterdam-based Tony’s Chocolonely was set up to tackle this injustice and it became one of the few chocolate brands with the mission of being 100% slave free.
While many heritage brands are born from a long line of confectioners, Tony’s Chocolonely’s unlikely creators were a group of journalists in Amsterdam led by Teun van der Keuken (Tony’s namesake). In 2003, the team were researching food production and supply chains for a TV show when they discovered the alarming reality of what was happening at cocoa farms in West Africa, where the majority of our cocoa (around 60%) comes from. The team wanted to speak to chocolate companies to see what could be changed, but they received no response.
So van de Keuken went a step further, turning himself into the police and asking to be arrested, and then asking a judge to convict him of driving child slavery, because he’d eaten a chocolate bar. Though the act made a big statement, much to van de Keuken’s disappointment, the judge refused to convict him.
They changed tact, and van de Keuken and the other journalists decided to change the industry from within and create their own chocolate bar. They called it Tony’s Chocolonely because it was van der Keuken’s “lonely fight against inequality in the chocolate industry”. This was in 2005, and since then Tony’s Chocolonely has gone on to become the Netherlands’ favourite chocolate brand, with 20% of the market share, and has been making major waves in the UK since it arrived in 2019.
Though van de Keuken has since stepped away from the brand, it still embodies the same values and mission as it did when it first started. To find how the brand continues to stand out from the competition, we speak to Tony’s CMO Thecla Schaeffer and Niels Heimens (founding partner of Herc, the agency that recently created the first international campaign for the brand), to find out the inspiration behind the company’s visual branding, the challenges of marketing chocolate, and why the brand will always be led by its mission.