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Dena White, Tony’s U.S. Marketing Manager

A pair of Daniels’ classes savoring work with ethically minded chocolatier Tony’s Chocolonely

Thanks to an affinity of a faculty member who has, at times, measured her annual chocolate intake in dozens of pounds, two Daniels College of Business marketing classes are experiencing a sweet taste of the incredibly competitive consumer products industry this quarter.

Assistant Professor of Marketing Ana Babic Rosario arranged for two classes—one undergraduate and one graduate—to spend 10 weeks developing marketing plans and conducting research for Tony’s Chocolonely, a cause-driven chocolate company based in the Netherlands. Founded in 2006 by Dutch journalist Teun van de Keuken, the company is spearheading the charge to eradicate modern slavery and exploitation in the cocoa industry, with a focus on the cocoa farmers and children of West Africa.

“It’s very clear that the college students of today are our future leaders and change makers, so partnering with a university such as DU creates awareness at that level,” said Dena White, who answers to two titles at Tony’s: U.S. Marketing Manager and Hot Cocoa. “Plus, there’s a beauty in not having years and years and years of experience under their belt. There’s all of that creativity, innovation and wonder in the work and how they go about the work.”

White’s engagement with the classes kicked off Sept. 12, when she presented the Tony’s case to a MKTG 2800 Introduction to Marketing class and a MKTG 4530 Marketing Research class. She explained that she was hired to drive awareness and sales for the brand, which is a top-seller in the Netherlands, in the U.S., and by extension, make considerable inroads in the company’s worldwide goal of 100% slave-free chocolate.

In her presentation, White shared that cocoa farmers earn an average of about 60 cents per day, far below the $2.20 per day poverty line in Ivory Coast and Ghana, where 60% of the world’s cocoa is grown. Furthermore, she said that 2.3 million children toil on the world’s 2.5 million cocoa farms, and many are victims of human trafficking and modern slavery, trapped for decades in a system with dreadful living conditions and no way out.

Graduate students in Assistant Professor Babic Rosario’s Marketing Research class.

In its push for 100% slave-free chocolate, Tony’s promotes a business model rooted in a virtuous cycle that features traceable cocoa beans, higher prices, stronger farmers, long-term connections with farmer co-ops, improved productivity and reduced dependency on cocoa. The company also lobbies for laws that require corporations to confirm that no child labor exists throughout their supply chains.

“This isn’t just about business; it’s about human rights and equity,” White said.

In addition to describing the harsh realities of the industry and the founder’s disruptive response, White handed out dozens of Tony’s Chocolonley 6.35-ounce chocolate bars in an assortment of flavors to class members and a few lucky friends.

“By refining their own work through 10 weeks of exposure to what a client wants or thinks is a priority, these students are getting a great classroom experience,” Babic Rosario said. “Rather than rely only on text books or other reflective approaches, they’re participating in active learning, and by applying what they’re learning immediately after learning about it, they’re being exposed to a real world experience.”

Nate Stover, a junior planning on majoring in finance, has found the dose of reality enlightening in MKTG 2800. He’s part of one of the six groups in the class tasked with developing a 10-page marketing plan for the brand to be shared with White.

“Prior to this class, I thought it was easy to speculate what needs to go into marketing and what a company needs to do to be successful,” he said. “But working through this experience and really learning what marketing actually entails has provided much more insight into knowing the decisions and steps that need to be taken for success.”

Given the MKTG 4530 focus on developing and applying marketing research tools, as well as interpreting findings, Babic Rosario split the class into three teams and charged each with mining extensive consumer databases, conducting in-depth interviews and running online surveys to uncover potentially valuable market niches for the premium-priced Tony’s.

“Based on the feedback we got from our initial research, we landed upon a target that hasn’t necessarily been researched much and we feel we have a lot of opportunity to produce something that’s unique and different,” said Danielle Nebel, a student in the Master of Science in Marketing program. “Specifically, as a potentially valuable target market we identified the cause-oriented millennial parents, or those who look for purpose behind the companies they support, and we got really good feedback from Ms. White that she is excited to learn about what we find.”

Undergraduate students in Assistant Professor Babic Rosario’s Introduction to Marketing course.

Through both classes, White also fulfilled a goal of boosting awareness within a demographic that thrives beyond the confines of traditional marketing tactics—a critical boost for Tony’s considering it doesn’t spend a dime on paid advertising.

“Since I’ve started this class, I’ve been more aware of Tony’s and have told others and it’s been interesting to see that snowball effect happen,” said Lorelei Strasburger, another MS Marketing student. “Since we’ve learned that 47% of chocolate consumers buy a brand because they’ve already bought it, we’re seeing the challenge of breaking through that trend and encouraging consumers to try it if they’re not familiar with it.”

The classes are benefiting from Babic Rosario’s efforts at this year’s South by Southwest Festival, which she attended as part of Teaching Associate Professor Michael Myers’ annual class trip to the iconic Austin, Texas, celebration of ideas and the arts. Inspired by a presentation by Tony Chocolonely’s Choco Evangelist, Ynzo van Zanten, and delighted by the rich taste of the Belgium-made candy, she sought out White and invited her to visit DU and collaborate with the students.

“Yes, I love chocolate, but perhaps more importantly, I am very interested in the pervasive problems of the industry that are not top of mind for the average consumer,” Babic Rosario said. “At Daniels, we’re about pioneering business for good. Tony’s is a brand that’s trying to impact the world in a positive way, which is why it resonates with me and what we’re teaching our students.”


Please visit DU’s COVID-19 website and subscribe to @uofdenver Twitter for updates regarding COVID-19.

Please visit DU’s COVID-19 website and subscribe to @uofdenver Twitter for updates regarding COVID-19.