The iconic multipurpose soap has had a cult following for decades, and now the brand is trying to make the chocolate industry more ethical
It’s time for Dr. Bronner’s hive to rise up. This is our moment, we can now have our soap and… chocolate, too? In early August, the giant of natural soaps will release a line of chocolates that, the company hopes, will bring more equity and transparency to an industry that faces crises of both environment and labor. But how will it compare to the company’s legendary non-food products? Can it scrub my life clean?
I picked up a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s for the first time years ago to inspect the absolutely bizarre label, crammed with thousands of spiritual, religious, and political proclamations, and it has since become a staple in my life. Now, any mention of Dr. Bronner’s captures my attention — I feel a jolt of happiness every time I walk by a bodega window filled with rows of it in those tall, chaotically labeled containers. I wash my body, my dishes, and my floors with it. And in a world where hundred-million-dollar “good businesses” are near-mythical, Dr. Bronner’s seems to get pretty close. As Vox writes, employees make well above minimum wage and receive health care and childcare subsidies, and each year the company spends millions of dollars advocating for prison reform, cannabis legalization, and environmental justice. In 2012, David Bronner, the company’s CEO (that’s Cosmic Engagement Officer, in the language of Dr. B), could be found in Washington, D.C., locked in a cage of hemp plants to protest the criminalization of hemp and cannabis.
It is, at first glance, surprising to see the storied natural cleaning product company nudging its way into the food space — they do sell coconut oil, too — but in many ways it makes perfect sense that a bar of chocolate is where Dr. Bronner’s would start. Even as a spotlight has been put on issues along the long food supply chain, the production of chocolate is still rife with exploitation, child labor, and environmental devastation. A Dr. Bronner’s press release introducing the new chocolates says that this entry into the food space is “a vehicle for the company to spread delicious chocolate while addressing ecological and social harm in the chocolate industry by modeling better practices in the sourcing and production of Dr. Bronner’s Magic All-One Chocolate.”
According to the press release, the chocolate has been developed in collaboration with Swiss chocolatiers and industry experts, making for “a chocolate experience like no other — from the brand that is best known for making soap like no other.” The production of cocoa for these bars will put an emphasis on regenerative agriculture, namely dynamic agroforestry, which Dr. Bronner’s describes as the “integration of complementary trees and other crops that creates biodiversity, improves yields and income streams, and avoids the use of toxic chemicals by replicating the way plant species naturally support each other in a healthy tropical forest.”
The decision to add chocolate to the Dr. Bronner’s line of products was spurred, according to the release, by the company learning that many of the farmers in Ghana who supply its Regenerative Organic Certified Serendipalm (Dr. Bronner’s soaps contain organic palm kernel oil) also grow cocoa. “It was,” David Bronner writes in the release, “a perfect opportunity to grow our partnership with fair trade farmers by developing these cocoa beans and other ingredients — all sourced to the highest standards possible — into a rich, delicious dark chocolate that elevates soil and community health, as well as quality of life for everyone in the supply chain.”
Looking at one of the company’s soon-to-be-released All-One chocolates, it’s admittedly hard to differentiate it from a bar of Dr. Bronner’s hand soap. And honestly, I kind of love that. The bars are 70 percent dark chocolate — not quite dark enough, but I’ll allow it — and sweetened with coconut sugar. Flavors like salted almond butter, smooth coconut praline, and roasted whole hazelnut put a very wise emphasis on the kind of salty-sweet paring that sets the best chocolate bars apart.
Though it’s hard — and yeah, okay, totally pointless — to compare soap and chocolate, the bottle of liquid gold sitting on the ledge of my shower sets a high bar for anything else the company sells. Can a company that has established itself as the standard-bearer for both quality and ethical business in the cleaning aisle capture lightning again, and demand the same kind of cultish audience it reaches with its soaps? Perhaps easier to measure (or maybe not): Is there any food in the world that can really match the burning glory of a full-to-the-top bottle of peppermint Dr. Bronner’s soap?
I’m honestly a little disappointed that the chocolate’s flavors don’t align more closely with Dr. Bronner’s soap fragrances. The brand’s citrus soap smells like the freshest fruit, and the peppermint is like something I’d inhale scooping up a bite of panna cotta. Save for eucalyptus and tea tree, every soap fragrance is something I’d definitely order at an ice cream shop. While some Swiss chocolatier reads this and gets to work on my idea of merging the best of soap and chocolate, I’ll settle for a bar of the hazelnut butter chocolate. It’s wrapped in a green label nearly identical to one hugging a bottle of soap underneath my sink.