‘Fairer than Fair Trade’ sourcing plus creative flavors raise Raaka's chocolate bar above the crowded aisles. Get the inside scoop.

Shara Rutberg

March 14, 2024

5 Min Read

Editor's note: This story was written before the 2024 NEXTY Awards were presented. Raaka won Best New Sweet Snacks and Desserts.

Food & Wine magazine did not name Raaka’s bar to its 2024 list of Best Vegan Dark Chocolate Bars. Or to the list of Best Organic Chocolate Bars. The magazine chose Raaka’s bar for its list of Best Dark Chocolate Bars in 2024, period.

One Bon Appetit editor called another Raaka creation, the Chili Chocolate Crunch bar, “one of the best things I’ve eaten this year.”

Clearly, Raaka has nailed taste, and exquisite flavor combinations like Bourbon Cask Aged, Rose Cardamom and Strawberry Basil stand out. But creative combos aren’t the only thing that sets Raaka apart. The Brooklyn, New York, company’s commitment to the people who grow the cacao at the heart of each scratch-made, vegan, organic bar is also uncommon.

Founded in 2010, the company uses a model it calls Transparent Trade to source its single-origin cacao. “Transparent Trade aims to build a farmer-focused sourcing model based on merit, not market,” says Orissa Agnihotri, director of sales and partnerships at Raaka. “We like to think of this model as ‘fairer than fair trade.’ Through direct sourcing, price stability and quality, customers’ purchases put more money in farmers’ pockets.”

While fair-trade prices fluctuate with commodity-market cocoa pricing, Transparent Trade commits to always purchase cacao at stable, premium prices that are higher than both commodity-market and fair-trade prices. The farmers are also protected from market fluctuations. Scan the Transparent Trade code inside each Raaka wrapper and learn the story of the people who grew the cacao, as well as the details of the price paid for the cacao and how that compares to commodity-market and fair-trade prices.

Raaka’s bars are made in small batches with unroasted cacao beans (different from raw cacao). Why? Because every bean has a flavor profile shaped by the soil and climate that grew it, as well as by the “care each producer takes in cultivating and processing it—similar to the idea of terroir in viticulture and winemaking,” says Agnihotri. “This fruity flavor is often roasted away in favor of that classic chocolatey note.” Instead, Raaka honors and elevates it, using each unique fruit-forward flavor to inspire each creation.

One of the newest creations, Matcha Waffle Cone, is a finalist for the Best Sweet Snack and Dessert NEXTY Award. It’s inspired by the melty-crunchy, mouthwatering last bite of a cone of matcha ice cream. The cacao used for the white chocolate comes from Peru, and the matcha hails from Japan.

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What’s Raaka’s mission?

Orissa Agnihotri: We’re devoted to making uncommonly delicious chocolate that captures the brighter and fruitier side of cacao. That’s why we make every bar from scratch with the highest quality unroasted cacao beans. 

Raaka means “raw” in Finnish. But you’re not Finnish … so what’s up?

OA: The word raaka means raw in Finnish, but also raw in the sense of wild, strong and untamed. We claim no Finnish heritage, but the cadence of the word and its meaning capture the essence of our chocolate and our process. When we make chocolate, we're after something that feels the way Raaka sounds: strong, wild, playful and, most of all, different. 

Where do you find inspiration for your flavors? 

OA: We get inspiration from our customers, our team, and our surroundings and travels. Being in New York, and Brooklyn specifically, we are privileged to be in a community of so many different cultures, cuisines and traditions, which we can taste and pull inspiration from. 

If I could taste only three flavors of all the ones you’ve created so far, to give me the essence of Raaka magic, which ones should I taste? 

OA: I would say our Raaka-solid classic, Pink Sea Salt. The Peruvian pink sea salt brings out the fruity, cherry-berry notes of unroasted cacao from Zorzal Cacao [in the] Dominican Republic and shows off exactly why we don't roast our cacao. The complexity of the fruity, salty and umami is delicious. 

Have you had any interesting—or traumatizing—flavor or ingredient fails? Details, please!

OA: Absolutely! We have a chocolate subscription program called First Nibs, which we've had going since 2014. This is actually our 10-year anniversary of the program, and with it, we've made two new chocolate bars every month for 10 years straight. So, needless to say, we've had some amazing hits and some interesting ones—but all in good fun and in the spirit of pushing the boundaries of what chocolate can be and what flavors can be highlighted through unroasted cacao. We've made bars like Porcini Mushroom, Pretzels & Mustard, Pacific Gem Hops, Shio Kombu & Black Sesame, and Rosemary & Red Dulse. Some may call these niche flavors, but hey, we like to have fun!

What’s been the most fascinating choco-thing or experience you’ve come across in your chocolate journey? 

OA: For me, it has been participating in the harvest season at origin. It's amazing to see how much expertise and care goes into cocoa production before those bags of cacao even get to our factory for us to do our job as bean-to-bar chocolate makers. 

Why is indulgence so very important? 

OA: We hear time and time again from our customers how having a piece of Raaka is a time in their day where they are unwinding, relaxing, sharing with family and friends and just experiencing a moment of self-care and joy. We all need and deserve those moments of small indulgence. 

Which Willie Wonka would Raaka be: Gene Wilder, Johnny Depp or Timothée Chalamet? 

OA: Gene Wilder—classic Wonka but with a fun, imaginative, eccentric twist to chocolate making. 

What’s next for the company? 

OA: We have some exciting new products we are going to be releasing, like more vegan white chocolates and some functional chocolate bars. Stay tuned! 

What do you hope to accomplish at Expo? 

OA: We're hoping to launch some really fun new products, hand out lots of Matcha Waffle Cone bars, and meet buyers and consumers excited about bean-to-bar chocolate! 

Raaka is exhibiting at Booth #5671 at Natural Products Expo West.

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