Tucked off to the left side of Hiroshima airport’s 3rd floor is a hidden gem, a chocolate factory and shop called FOO. This classy chocolate shop is something special not only because of its excellent products, but also for operations that follow high-level sustainability aims.
The staff seem to float around the facility in their indigo-robes as they make high-quality chocolate, tea, and cakes in the factory. The Indigo dyed uniforms are another example of how this company is operating at higher than usual environmental standards. Indigo is an environmentally-friendly dye that has a long history and tradition of use in Japan, especially in the Hiroshima and Okayama region in connection with dyeing denim and textiles.
Indigo 藍色 (Ai-iro) dye is naturally derived from plants grown in Japan and the wastewater after the dyeing process can be safely put back into the environment without harm. FOO indigo-dyed uniforms dyed are stylish, locally-produced, and overall another great trademark of a sustainability-minded business.
The walls of the factory are glass to offer a business-transparent, museumesque tour of the luscious chocolate operations. Key features of FOO is its all-female workforce, all-vegan product line-up, fair-trade sourcing practices, use of compostable containers, as well as its equity-building partnerships and collaborations.
FOO is a wonderful example of how sustainable-minded business practices can create high-quality products and successful business strategy.
Empowering women to run business operations on an equal level without a top-down power structure is how Gokan-san, Foo’s manager, describes the positive work dynamic. She added that there is a flexible work style where staff support one another which also leads to productive, clear communication among the staff.
Some may argue whether an all-female workforce can truly be an example of gender equality without the presence of men.
Gender-positive work environments like FOO, however, help balance the gender-imbalance of most businesses in Japan.
All-female businesses such as Foo are rare yet important to somewhat even the playing field. 2018’s need for the #metoo movement worldwide were clearly highlighted by the reveal that companies and universities in Japan have long run operations based on an institutional bias against female applicants.
If anyone needs a reminder of the revelations on gender-inequality in Japan in 2018, this Bloomberg article sums it up well.
In addition to gender-equality, FOO products are also made without use of animal or fish products. Even the high-quality ‘milk-chocolate’ that FOO produces is vegan as the creaminess derives from cashew nuts. FOO also sells vegan cakes, ice-cream and a drink selection in its shop.
Vegan Product Lineup
According to the manager, the founder of the USHIO chocolate company, who helped establish FOO, is a lifelong vegan who stepped away from a career as a chef as he felt conflicted working in a career focused on serving foods which conflicted with his values. The chocolate company he founded, Ushio Chocolate, is located on Mukaishima, not far from Hiroshima’s classic seaside town of Onomichi.
How Foo sources it’s vital cacao beans and cashew nuts directly from the producers at better than fair-trade prices helps ensures that the growers also share in the business success. This builds social and economic equity in supplier communities allowing them to better provide for their families. This is not the usual business-as-usual practices (BAU) typically employed by major chocolate firms. Most major chocolate companies make huge profits while growers are unable to share in the success of products made from their labor. This Equal Exchange video clearly and simply shows why Fair-Trade practices like FOO employs matters.
Even high-quality cafes and sellers seem to think it is acceptable to give customers single-use plastic garbage with every purchase. This is not the case at FOO as every detail and aspect of operations has had careful consideration by this sustainability-focused company. Food and drinks consumed in the cafe are served in fashionable Wasara biodegradable containers and utensils.
Wasara creates its products from naturally renewable materials, which are biodegradable, so it can then go back to nature post-use. Wasara also designs products reflective of the Japanese aesthetic identity. The Wasara website states that their design
utilizes a technique known as Shakkei whereby objects of nature visible from but physically outside a space, such as trees and distant mountains, are considered part of one’s own garden.
It is not only their design that reflects nature, but these products are also biodegradable and go back to natural dirt in 90 days without leaving any toxic elements behind.
There is a stronger effect across society when collaborative work, partnerships, and sourcing of the organization follow the mission statement. In line with empowering women in Japanese society, Foo chooses to collaborate with female designers for the beautiful package designs of their products.
At the moment, the range of chocolate for sale is limited to the gift-box: a selection of chocolate termed PAN for the (cashew) ‘milk’ chocolate, NEU for the white chocolate, and CHA for the tea infused chocolate priced at 2,800 yen, available from their online shop (domestic) as well as from their 3F shop in Hiroshima airport.
It is really inspirational and exciting to find such a sustainably-focused business such as FOO and see how they are turning their passion for supporting people and protecting the planet into a successful business strategy. This is a great model for anyone looking to start a new business or who has a desire to improve a traditional one.