Why I Started a Fair Trade Chocolate Company at Age 21


While traveling for business in India and on an educational tour through Ecuador, I saw the devastating effects of exploitation on farmers and artisans in the developing world. But I also saw the incredible impact that fair trade, as a business model, can have on producers and their communities.

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Feeling responsible to make a difference, I became an avid fair trade advocate. For my work in the movement, Fairtrade International named me one of the Top 10 Biggest Fair Trade Advocates in the World and #1 in the U.S. I even gave a TEDx talk on fair trade while a student at SUNY Geneseo.

Upon some research for a business class, I was disappointed to learn that 2/3 of the world’s cacao is grown at five degree north of the equator in West African communities with extreme poverty and child labor. I was, however, equally inspired by this devastating news. As an aspiring social entrepreneur, chocolate enthusiast, and health-conscious consumer, it all started coming together.

I truly believed the chocolate, candy, and snacking industry could do better. I was determined to create a product that would not only taste delicious, but that also supports farmers and has health benefits. So, we took high quality, ethically sourced ingredients, created adorable cube-shaped pieces, and packed them into a convenient pouch. And Five North Chocolate was born.

Jumping into an industry I knew nothing about (food), was certainly (and still is) a challenge –but a fun one, too! I spent many late nights in our commercial kitchen experimenting with recipes, producing our chocolate snacks as fast as I could, and fulfilling orders for local stores and customers online.

I have vivid memories of sticking labels until I couldn’t feel my fingers and messing up batches of chocolate at 4am… leaving me questioning myself as an entrepreneur and if I was even the right person for the job. I still struggle with that. But I realize that a positive attitude and surrounding yourself with the right people goes a long way.

Why I Started a Fair Trade Chocolate Company at Age 21
Quote from Ben Conard, founder of Five North Chocolate

And the lessons help lead to humbling successes like receiving an award from Bill + Chelsea Clinton, earning a $10k prize at a pitch competition, and becoming the German National Champion at the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards.

Five North Chocolate is now sold in almost 50 retail stores. We can be found on the catering menu at hip meeting spaces in NYC, at the mini-bar in awesome hotels, and with an online farmers market on Long Island.

At Five North, we’re totally committed to five things. (Surprised?)

CACAO – We love cacao and its health benefits, that’s why there’s more cacao in our snacks than any other ingredient!
FAIR TRADE – We source only the highest quality, Fair Trade Certified™ cacao from around the world.
WELL-BEING – We use only wholesome ingredients you can actually pronounce. Nothing to hide in our snacks!
DIVERSITY – As a Certified LGBT Business Enterprise®, we celebrate diversity and we’re not afraid to wave our rainbow flag. Join us?
YOU – We don’t believe premium, healthy, and awesome snacks should be far from reach. So, here’s to you!

We’ve come a long way since our first (not-so-tasty) prototypes in our dorm room kitchen. And we’re not stopping anytime soon 🙂

My vision for Five North is to change the way people think about chocolate, and to prove that our favorite indulgences can (and should) be guilt-free. Together, we can make healthier choices, celebrate diversity, and impact farming communities around the world. Pretty sweet, huh?

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