Natural Foods Merchandiser

Endangered Species lawsuit settled

A battle over control of Endangered Species Chocolate Co. ended Dec. 9 when the two Indiana investors, who had purchased 51 percent of the company, acquired founder Jon Stocking's remaining interest. Terms weren't disclosed.

Stocking sold Wayne Zink and Randy Deer of DZ Enterprises a $3 million stake in Endangered Species in January 2005. In April, the new owners fired Stocking, who later filed a $20 million lawsuit alleging fraud, breach of contract and racketeering.

Countersuits and bitter accusations followed. Stocking claimed the investors posted armed guards at the plant in Talent, Ore., and fired him while he was in the hospital. Zink and Deer alleged that Stocking misrepresented the financial condition of the business, which he founded in 1993.

Meanwhile, the production plant relocated last summer to Indianapolis, said Endangered Species spokesman Christopher Stolarski. The new plant, a remodeled Deluxe Check factory, is LEED-compliant, and Endangered Species continues to donate 10 percent of profits to wildlife causes.

Zink, now chief executive, is leading a trip to Nigeria in February to visit cacao farms and check for ethical trading compliance. "[The trip] reflects Endangered Species' core value, which is reverence for life," Stolarski said.

As part of the settlement, which was mediated in federal court, the parties agreed not to discuss the case in public. But Endangered Species' new owners apologized in writing to Stocking, his family, former employees and the community for the "emotional and financial impact" of the dispute.

"It is tragic and unfortunate that these lawsuits and allegations have cast any doubt whatsoever upon Jon Stocking's character, honesty and integrity," the letter said.

"The letter was a very important component to me," Stocking said.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 2/p. 10

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