All along the waterfront in modern San Francisco, businesses catering to tourists occupy the wharves where longshoremen used to work.
But down at Pier 17, there also is an industrial enterprise -- a chocolate factory, owned and operated by none other than the team of Louis Rossetto and Jane Metcalfe, the visionaries who launched Wired magazine in SoMa back in 1993.
They are still innovators in technology, though no longer in the publishing industry. Instead they manufacture and sell premium chocolate with their company TCHO, which in its own way may prove to be as disruptive in the global chocolate industry as Wired was in publishing.
“Why chocolate?” I asked Rossetto. “Because after infiltrating people's consciousness through their eyes and ears, it's great to be able to reach them by touching their tongues.”
Good enough. But how about moving from virtual reality -- Facebook and Twitter, etc. -- to a manufacturing plant? Isn’t that a move backward?
“While it may be trendy and even profitable to maintain that humans can prosper in the virtual world,” Rossetto told me, “in fact, we live in the material (world), and it's good that we are getting back to realizing that.
“Or as Chris Anderson (Wired’s current editor) and I put it, ‘Atoms are the new bits.’”
TCHO is the perfect example of how a small, local industrial firm can operate as part of the global economy. It is a vertically integrated (cradle to grave) production company resting on a deep understanding of how to use information technology.
All of the chocolate beans it uses are grown, harvested, and fermented in underdeveloped countries, including Ghana in Africa.
TCHO refuses to buy beans from the neighboring Ivory Coast, however, because of what the company describes as modern-day slavery on an appalling scale.
“Children are stolen from their homes in Benin, Burkino Faso, or Togo, and sold to Ivory Coast growers, where they are shackled, threatened, beaten, and, all too often, killed,” the company explains on its website. “The operations using slave labor are not family farms but large plantations, whose products are sold to global commodity traders and large European chocolate companies.”
By contrast, TCHO’s approach is to use “ethical sourcing” in the acquisition of its chocolate beans. It partners with growers and co-ops to transfer knowledge about growing and fermentation to enable Third World farmers to become premium producers expanding upon the principles of Fair Trade.
The company’s efforts have attracted the attention of U.S. Agency for International Development, which recently awarded the company a grant to expand its ethical sourcing program.
So beyond all of this good stuff is the question: How good is their chocolate? If you can’t find it in one of your neighborhood haunts, you can either visit TCHO’s retail store at Pier 17, or order it online.
(Note: The author worked for Rossetto at Wired Digital from 1995-‘97.)