Chocolate company with a mission finds its new home in Portland
When Tony's Chocolonely was looking for a place to locate its U.S. headquarters, the Netherlands-based company thought Portland would be a good fit.
Nearly four years and one new location later, that hunch has turned out to be on the money.
The company last month moved from a co-working space into a suite on the first floor of the historic Buddha Building at 312 N.W. 10th Ave. in the Pearl District. With an open floor plan, abundant natural light, exposed brick, and accents in the company's signature red color, the new office space has been designed to parallel the feel of the company's offices in its main headquarters in Amsterdam, according to Office Manager Meredith McEntee.
While the touches in the new office are whimsical — a sign on the outside of a small room, for example, identifies it as a tiny meeting room that's also a great place to take a nap — they don't detract from the company's main goal. Since it was founded in 2005, the company has been on a mission is to convince other chocolate manufacturers to adopt a model to completely eliminate the use of slave labor, including illegal uses of child labor, in the production of chocolate on a global scale.
It's a purpose that's reflected in a message noted in red letters on the wood surface of a long table in the kitchen area of the office: Crazy about chocolate, serious about people.
On the trail
Tony's Chocolonely was founded in the Netherlands by Tony van de Keuken and two other investigative journalists after they uncovered information that the largest chocolate manufacturers in the world were buying their cocoa from plantations in West Africa that used illegal child and slave labor. The trio set out to prove that chocolate could be made in a sustainable, socially responsible manner.
The end results were a milk chocolate bar that was an instant hit and a model that provides accountability for every step in the production of the company's products.
"We haven't looked back since," McEntee said.
The company, which is certified as a B Corp business, has built long-term relationships with farmers, purchasing cocoa directly from them. By paying the farmers a higher price, adult workers receive correspondingly higher wages, which eliminates or reduces the need for children in the family to work.
The company also uses a model created by Nestle to determine whether children working on plantations are being treated responsibly. On its website, Nestle acknowledges that it has concerns about how the cocoa it uses is produced, which led it to create the Child Labor Remediation Monitoring System.
When Tony's Chocolonely does find a farmer using children as labor in ways that are in violation of local laws and regulations, the company works to educate the farmer, McEntee said.
The company's approach has helped it build a solid fan base. Last year, Tony's Chocolonely claimed a 19% share of the chocolate market in the Netherlands, higher than Mars, Nestle and other big-name confectioners. Earlier this year, the company rolled out its products to consumers in the United Kingdom.
Tony's Chocolonely introduced its line of chocolate bars to the U.S. market in 2015, the same year it opened its Portland office. At the time, the office was located in a co-working space in the Pearl District and had two employees: McEntee, who also serves as the company's People and Culture Champion, and business development manager Peter Zandee.
The Portland office eventually swelled to nine in-house staffers and three remote sales people, with the team moving to increasingly larger spaces in the co-working building. Eventually, McEntee realized it was time to make a move to a place that the Portland team could call its own.
McEntee looked at spaces in several parts of the city. She was drawn to the Pearl District space in part because she felt it would feel like home to the company's Dutch employees when they came to visit, enhancing the concept of Tony's Chocolonely as a unified global company.
"It fits the look and feel of our Dutch offices," McEntee said.
The new location also offered the opportunity for McEntee and her team to create a space that would provide flexibility with regard to how the area could be used. As part of the company's culture, employees gather with their office mates daily to eat lunch, which is provided by their employer. By removing interior divider walls originally in the space, McEntee was able to devote one-third of the space to the kitchen and a long table for communal meals.
In finishing out the space, McEntee turned to local firms. Anna Harris, who owns Experimental Vintage, helped track down an area rug from Turkey. The rug features a soft red tone that fits well with a turf carpet, in the company's signature red color, that defines an area filled with work stations provided by Fully, another Portland B Corp. RG Construction handled interior tenant improvements.
The company's Portland team is beginning to settle into the new space. But the move from two separate co-working spaces to an open floor plan has required some adjustment. However, the layout of the new office, which features a glass-enclosed large room for meeting as well as a smaller room with a door that can be closed, is allowing employees to find new rhythms for their work flows.
On days when Abigail Davison, the office's digital marketing assistant, has work that requires a bit of quiet, for example, she grabs her laptop and heads off to a small room with a door that can be closed.
"I think we've all become more intentional in the way we interact and work," Davison said.`
With a three-year lease for the space, McEntee said the new location offers enough from for the company to add more employees during the coming year.
"Our future plans? We're going to sink our teeth into this space and continue to grow our team," McEntee said.
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