Chocolate makers must have the best job in the World.
Immersed in the aroma of cacao every day, chocolate makers have the important task of bringing to life the most appreciated food of all. They are often subjects of envy because having the hands dirty of chocolate for 10 hours a day is everybody’s dream.
But how many would be willing to sign up for the DARK SIDE of such sweet business?
The fine chocolate bar savored during relaxing evenings after work is only the end result of an activity filled with headaches, uncertainties and frustrations.
Behind every pretty packaging there is the face of a chocolate maker thinking “NOT AGAIN!” when an expensive machine decides to break every two months, or the annoyed expression of an employee that has to spend hours cleaning up the entire laboratory.
When chocolate makers ask $10 for 2 oz of handmade chocolate, there is no overcharge applied or big profit to be made. Between pricey raw materials and expensive supply chains, the fine chocolate industry is not a territory for wannabe millionaires. The life of chocolate makers is no #lifegoals unless true passion and spirit of sacrifice are genuinely involved.
Today 3 renowned bean-to-bar chocolate makers from Oregon, Florida and Hawaii and finalists in the International Chocolate Awards 2016 shed light on some of the biggest challenges that they have to face every day.
CREO CHOCOLATE‘s founders Tim and Janet farmed raspberries for 15 years. They used to make chocolate from the beans only for friends and neighbors before going to Ecuador to see for the first time where cacao came from and how it was grown. That’s when they decided to sell their raspberry farm and turn making chocolate into their main business. Two years after their official start in 2014, their chocolate adventure is doing so well that Creo Chocolate is now finalist for the International Chocolate Awards in the Americas and Asia Pacific competition in the Micro Batch category.
When asked about the most challenging part of the chocolate making process, Creo Chocolate pointed out an unexpected issue:
“The most challenging problem we have noticed and experienced as chocolate makers is the struggle between PRICE and QUALITY.
Being competitive in a price-driven society impacts us by making it challenging to be able to make a living for our family while providing a quality product that we are passionate about. For us, our passion in trying to make a difference in this World by making chocolate is what keeps us going each day, not the cash balance. But honestly, in order to keep going, we have to eat more than the chocolate we make and take care of the needs of our family.”
In the fine chocolate industry there is a constant concern about the profits for the cocoa farmers. Many consumers don’t know that also the families of chocolate makers are challenged to make ends meet.
“Craft chocolate needs to be sustainable for both the farmer and the maker.
For a typical artisan chocolate bar that retails for $8, the chocolate maker gets less than $4 after wholesale price and distributor fees. Out of the $4, he must pay for all the raw ingredients, packaging, equipment, labor, facility expenses, utilities, and all the overhead expenses.
Hopefully, he will have something to feed his family with in the end.”
MANOA CHOCOLATE‘s founders Dylan and Tamara started making chocolate with home made equipment on the kitchen counter of Dylan’s parents in 2010. In 6 years the batch size went from 400 to 4,000 bars, the equipment has become bigger and more powerful and their bars are on growing demand. With a brand new packaging just released, these Hawaiian bars are now running for the International Chocolate Awards in different categories including 85% and over dark chocolate bars.
When asked about the most challenging part of the chocolate making process, Manoa Chocolate had no doubts:
“The biggest challenges happen on the farming side. Consistent supply of quality beans is such a challenge! Our craft bean-to-bar industry needs to focus on making great chocolate. The price for beans is much higher and the quality needs to reflect this.
But it is often not the case.
We will get a ton or two of cacao and everything will be mixed. Some bags are great and others are garbage. In other cases, everything will be beautiful on the first order while the next one from the same farm will be full of hard and astringent little beans that didn’t ferment well. This is getting better as we establish better relationship.”
Establishing strong relationships in the places of origin is crucial to best source cacao in 2016. But Manoa Chocolate also highlights another aspect of making chocolate that might still be underrated:
“Another big challenge is growing sustainably.
Our two 25 Kg Cocoatown grinders spun for 10 months straight and we needed to scale up. Running a business model using Cocoatowns in a developed country doesn’t work for long. It is too inefficient. To grow we had to lease a new space, make it suitable for chocolate making, put in loads of 3 phase power, purchase machines that we can grow into over the next few years, learn how to make chocolate on a new large equipment and continue to pay all our bills.
Growth comes in painful leaps, not gentle upward slopes”
CASTRONOVO CHOCOLATE‘s founder Denise began her research for rare and heirloom cacao beans thanks to a big passion for ecology and sustainability that brought her to many trips around Central and South America. With the help of her husband Jim, in 2014 the Castronovo family opened a small store in Florida and their bars made with rare cacao started winning awards right away. This year they are running again in the Micro Batch category.
When asked about the most challenging part of the chocolate making process, Castronovo Chocolate appointed difficulties in finding adequate equipment on the market:
“Tempering on a large scale is difficult.
Our chocolate is thick, more so than what manufacturers of tempering equipment design equipment for. Large-scale equipment requires large capital cost, and it is a disappointment when the equipment doesn’t deliver and we are hustling to meet our delivery obligations.”
Education is another topic of interest and concern when it comes to selling chocolate. Castronovo Chocolate is definitely giving its contribute to this cause.
“There is a big effort in explaining to customers how American Craft Chocolate is different from commercial chocolate products in terms of quality and price point. The notions of direct trade, fine flavor cocoa beans, heirloom cacao, single origin chocolate, and flavor notes are all new to them.
On occasion we give talks at public libraries to organizations such as the Kiwanis Club and Rotary Club, and in the past we have given talks with the Human Trafficking Coalition to bring awareness about the usage of child slave labor in West Africa.”
These are only a few of the difficulties that chocolate makers have to deal with on a daily basis. Making a living with chocolate is a job reserved to those willing to hustle, devoted to their customers and loyal to their true passion.
A big THANK YOU to Tim from Creo Chocolate, Dylan from Manoa Chocolate and Jim from Castronovo Chocolate for sharing their stories with us.
Are YOU aware of other struggles that chocolate makers have to face every day?
I did NOT get paid and did NOT receive any kind of favor for writing this article. These are my honest opinions at your service.