by John Trybus, Managing Director

How Theo Chocolate’s Joe Whinney is communicating that his chocolate company has a conscience

Profitability with principles? Isn’t that an oxymoron in this economy?

Not if you’re Joe Whinney and the Theo Chocolate Company. Joe, the founder and CEO of Theo, is featured in this episode of The Social Strategist which was recorded on location at the company’s deliciously-smelling factory in Seattle, Washington.

When I wasn’t sampling the Theo salted caramels (shhh….they’re my favorite!), Joe and I sat down in his super-secret chocolate lab (yes, that’s really where we conducted the interview) to discuss his company’s approach to doing well while doing good, as he puts it.

“One of the questions I get a lot is ‘isn’t it more expensive to be socially responsible?’ and to me it’s sort of a bizarre idea [as to why] that is even a choice? Why is it that it’s a rare thing to do the right thing?” Joe says in the interview.

It’s true that Theo Chocolate inherently has a great business model led by a social strategist with an ethical approach to his company and life in general. However, the company, which has only been manufacturing confections since 2006, is extremely successful because of its approach to communication. Theo has created and communicated its culture of corporate social responsibility in unique ways, and here are a few examples that Joe and I discuss in detail in the interview:

  • Theo created innovative supply chain programs for farmers in chocolate-range countries to give them proper agriculture skills and to teach them the role they play in the chocolate making process.
  • The company partners with nonprofits they care about through the creation of specialty chocolate bars and cause marketing relationships.
  • They offer public tours of the factory to raise awareness about the company’s chocolate making process and establish a human connection with visitors. An estimated 30,000 people visit the facility every year.
  • Theo has a consistent focus on communicating transparency with vendors, partners and employees at every turn. Theo has created a special culture of employee communication and calls their workers Theonistas.


“There’s an interesting idea that the only purpose of a company is to generate profits for its owners or shareholders, and that to me is very one- or two-dimensional,” Joe says. “I believe that a three-dimensional business is one that is having a community impact.”

The results? “People seem to really love the fact that they can feel good about chocolate,” he adds.

Want to learn more about the Theo Chocolate Company’s approach to profitability with principles? Make sure to listen to my interview with Joe Whinney.