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Increasing Consumer Appreciation for Craft Chocolate Through Traceability

Cacao farmers are the heart of the process of creating fine flavor chocolate.

How do we get consumers to have a greater appreciation for a product as universally ubiquitous and nostalgia inducing as chocolate? In the Philippines and the rest of the world, smaller companies like Auro Chocolate are entering the market hoping to capitalize on the confection’s popularity while challenging the ways in which it has been traditionally sourced and produced. By promoting traceability, chocolate can move past its sweet, cheap image and be appreciated more deeply by the growing number of conscious consumers who are increasingly attentive to where a product comes from and how it’s made. To reinvent chocolate, we need to effectively retell its story by showcasing the importance of origin, ingredients, process, and the lives of the people behind it.

Following the lead of fine wine and coffee, craft chocolate needs to firstly establish the relevance of the origin of cacao, its terroir and the farmers who cultivate it in order to widen the narrative and create the crucial link between quality and origin.  It is no longer simply about the brand and where the finished product chocolate is made but also where the raw material cacao comes from and who grows it, so that we can create a more intimate and meaningful relationship between the consumer and the producer. Chocolate is often thought of as a Western product, but cacao actually only grows around the equator where mostly developing countries are located – such as the Philippines.

While the Philippines might not be widely known as a producer of cacao and chocolate, the country in fact has a long history that dates back to 300 years ago, around the 1670s, when cacao was brought here via the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade, making it the first country in Asia to cultivate the crop. It has since become an integral part of our country’s culture and heritage – from our traditional tab lea / sikwate (warm, thick beverage prepared with roughly ground cacao) to our morning champorados (chocolate rice porridge). Auro Chocolate showcases this special relationship with chocolate and the story of the people who cultivate the crop through our Reserve Collection, which currently features specific barang gays or towns in Mindanao and the unique cacao varieties that can be found there – Saloy, Paquibato, Tupi, Regalo, and Mana. The cacao from these communities offer unique flavors, reflecting the characteristics of the land and its people. Through our Reserve Collection, we are able to bring attention to these smaller marginalized communities, bringing the inspiring stories and hard work of the farmers closer to consumers by enabling them to trace the source of their chocolate.

Each chocolate bar is a story of the cacao’s origins and the people behind it.

We adopted the concept of wine to “reserve” and age its best vintage longer for the chocolates of our Reserve Collection by producing it in limited quantities as they are solely made from cacao of a particular year’s harvest from a single variety or estate. Instead of a long list of ingredients with sugar often being the first mentioned, our chocolates are radically simple and made from just cacao and organic muscovado sugar. The complexity of its flavour is not derived from the combination of ingredients but from the uniqueness expressed by the raw material itself and our ability to maximize it. These concepts of exclusivity, temporality and wholesomeness are reflected in the design of the packaging that was inspired by traditional Filipino patterns, wherein the year of harvest and information relevant to the origin are clearly displayed. Additionally, we have entered and won prestigious international awards that are proudly showcased at the front to more firmly and quickly establish the reputation of the chocolate and the brand. They are important in the premiumization of Philippine cacao and chocolate as they help elevate it to a fine product that should be valued and savoured for its complexity, instead of simply a snack that is quickly and cheaply consumed and forgotten.

We further the story being told on our packaging on social media where we share visually striking and thought provoking content about the entire tree-to-bar making process so we can constantly educate and engage with the wider community. The next step to achieving greater traceability is for us to create a more direct connection between the physical product and its packaging with the more detailed information and story we are sharing online through a QR code or some other technology. Ultimately, our goal is to close the gap between the consumer and the source so that more individuals today can appreciate fine chocolate in a whole different way.

Our chocolates are made from unique cacao varieties that reflect that flavors of its land’s terroir

Kelly Go is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of Auro Chocolate, an award-winning company in the Philippines that created fine cacao and chocolate ingredients and retail products made from sustainably sourced beans from Mindanao. After graduating from the University of Chicago, she attended Le Cordon Bleu Paris where she received a Diploma in Culinary Arts and gained a deeper appreciation of where food comes from. Seeing a unique opportunity to pursue her passion for food and development, she decided to move back to the Philippines in 2015 to focus on making great chocolate for a cause with her best friend and business partner, Mark Ocampo. Since Auro launched in 2017, the company has seen tremendous growth both domestically and internationally and received numerous prestigious international awards.

Ira Mendez is a Community Development Officer at Auro Chocolate. A recent graduate of Economics and Marketing Management from De La Salle University-Manila, her work involves the development of marginalized communities. She currently spearheads Auro's research and projects in assessing the needs of partner cacao farming communities, finding ways to fulfill the company's mission of contributing towards the improvement of the farmers' quality of life.