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Empowering women, one chocolate bar at a time

Paul Newman and Ari-Lee Newman on their honeymoon in India. They split the trip into two parts; the first was doing volunteer service work distributing vitamin A to children in rural villages in the Bihar region. A group called Vitamin Angels does these trips, so volunteered their time in honor of their union. The second half was to relax in Kerala and enjoy their time together.

The Escondido couple Paul Newman and Ari Lee-Newman, owners of BIJA Chocolates and their social mission of disrupting cycles of poverty was featured recently on ABC’s The Today Show

Their company was one of four companies selected to be featured out of thousands that work with Whole Foods.

Their organic chocolates are sold throughout Washington, Oregon, Southern California, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and Alaska, as well as on Amazon, and in Escondido at Jimbo’s.

When Paul Newman and Ari Lee-Newman spent their honeymoon volunteering to distribute Vitamin A in remote villages in India in 2014 with the nonprofit group Vitamin Angels, they were struck by the joy and contentment they encountered, even among the most impoverished communities.

Realizing they wanted to build a business that supports such communities around the world, the couple left their jobs to launch BIJA Chocolates, a social enterprise that works directly with cacao farmers and women-owned bean-processing cooperatives throughout the equatorial belt to make high-quality, hand-crafted organic chocolate bars, pass along a greater share of profit to the producers, and ensure greater economic opportunities for families and communities.

In May, BIJA’s social mission – and its chocolate bars – was recognized on national television by Whole Foods Market and ABC’s The Today Show. Selected among hundreds of manufacturers by Whole Foods’ “Local Program,” BIJA was featured as part of The Today Show’s Small Business Week, sponsored by Whole Foods Market, as one of the most innovative small businesses in America that is creating significant impact through ethical sourcing and social entrepreneurship to elevate communities around the world. 

BIJA has partnered with eight carefully selected women’s associations in the Dominican Republic and Peru and intends to support one or two women’s groups in each of the top 10 cacao-producing countries by 2025. BIJA – which means “the seed and source of life” in Sanskrit – not only ensures that the people who pour their hearts and souls into cacao production are fairly compensated, but also supports the women’s cooperatives and nearby farms in obtaining organic certification. 

“We work to equalize the cacao industry, empowering women globally, and making one of the most complex, distinctively flavored bean-to-bar chocolates possible,” said Paul Newman.

Paul Newman and Ari-Lee-Newman manufacture and sell organic chocolates. You’ll find their products at many local retailers, such as Jimbo’s and Whole Foods.

Investing in Women

“BIJA is more than chocolate, though it’s darn good chocolate,” added Lee-Newman. “BIJA grew out of a passion for people. We hold the belief that if you invest in women, they will reinvest in their families and communities. The intention to invest in women is very important for us, and in many of the countries where we work, women are under-represented.”

Chocolate is a $100 billion industry, but many cacao farmers earn less than $2 a day. Working directly with small-scale growers and women-owned cooperatives allows BIJA to pay farmers and processors 25% more than traditional fair-trade prices. Also, BIJA’s 24 x 25 Organic Certification Program helps women’s co-ops achieve organic certification so they can expand their domestic and export market opportunities and increase profitability. BIJA intends to fund organic certification for 24 women’s cooperatives across the globe by 2025.

 “When we meet women, we would like to work with, more often than not, they’re not certified organic,” Newman explained. “There’s a lot of entrapment in the industry because organic certification costs thousands, forcing growers and co-ops to join larger co-ops because they can’t afford that on their own. We help shepherd them through the conversion process and gift them the certification. It’s all about economic empowerment. There’s a human component to food that can get obscured in the supply chain. We are trying to help people make more conscious decisions.”

Both believe raising awareness about the human cost of chocolate production and providing economic opportunities to women’s groups throughout the world will pave the way toward exploring the human story of chocolate and rewriting the way cacao is sourced to ensure the people who grow, harvest and process cacao are compensated fairly. Through its One Seed Foundation, BIJA will begin to work in 2019 to provide scholarships for women to learn the craft of bean-to-bar chocolate making in their own facilities.

BIJA’s handcrafted-quality chocolates contain only four ingredients or less and are 100 percent Certified Organic, soy-free, non-GMO and gluten-free. The dark chocolates are vegan. The bars come in nine flavors: Burnt Maple Crunch, Cherry Chia Crunch, Dark Chocolate Adventure, Espresso & Cacao Nibs, Himalayan Sea Salt, Pure Dark, Sea Salt Almond, Tart Citrus Incaberry, Toasted Coconut, and Wild Ginger & Cayenne.

Ari Lee-Newman of BIJA Chocolates in the Dominican Republic with a member of one of the women-owned coops that the company works with. The woman is sorting cacao nibs, which is the basis of chocolate.

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