Have you ever asked yourself why locally made chocolates are more expensive than chocolates imported from overseas?
Well, it’s a question that Nikita Nath, the director and bean to bar chocolate maker of the Ortinola Great House has heard often enough.
And the question was raised again when Episode 2 of the Trinitario Cocoa webinar was held last week Wednesday. The webinar was a collaborative project between InvesTT and the Delegation of the European Union in T&T.
The panel discussion was titled Trailblazing Women Entrepreneurs in T&T’s cocoa value chain and featured Elizabeth “Lady” Montano, Isabel Brash and Nath.
The webinar’s host Jessie-May Ventour highlighted questions posed by the attendees.
“We have someone expressing concern about how expensive our locally made chocolates are,” Ventour said.
Ventour asked the panellists if they were willing to respond to the concern.
“I get this question almost every single time I have a tour and I am happy to get it because it means you have tried local chocolate,” Nath said.
Nath argued one of the main issues that causes this price discrepancy is that craft chocolate makers are working with economies of scale.
“For example, a small cocoa grinder can run you US$700 plus the associated shipping and duty. Let’s say I want a 500 kilogramme machine from Scotland that can run 450 kilos that is costing me £80,000. One, it is extremely expensive and if you look at manufacturing in any field, no machinery is really going to cut down on the cost of production,” she said.
A cocoa podA cocoa podA cocoa podA cocoa pod
“Secondly when you look at the beans, here our beans are more expensive. I don’t want to go too far but I can tell you that West Africa, which produces the majority of the world’s cocoa, they unfortunately do not get a great price for beans.
“Our beans in T&T and fine flavour countries are double the price and when you look at a commercial chocolate bar, the percentage of fine or flavour beans might be about five per cent. The rest of the beans may be bulk cocoa or what we call cheaper cocoa and we simply cannot compete,” Nath said.
“The third thing I am leaving you with, go back to wherever you are from and grab a craft chocolate, 80 per cent and grab a sort of more mass produced 80 per cent bar, eat them together and the story is finished. You will not believe the difference in taste and experience that you can savour,” she said.
According to the Bar and Cocoa website, describing a food as “craft” implies an elevation, a longevity and dedication to perfection—or as close as you can get to it.
“What distinguishes a craft chocolate from a mass-market chocolate is the human touch and transformation present in its every element,” it stated.
One of the webinar’s attendees said it was like “comparing chalk with cheese, and expensive cheese at that.”
“They are two different products and two different production models,” Ventour stated as she read the attendee’s comment.
Montano, a director of Montano’s Chocolate Company, said: “When you want something of quality you have to pay for quality.”
“The Trinitario cocoa bean speaks for itself and sometimes when we eat these chocolates, yes they are cheap, but it is not made of Trinitario cocoa. Sometimes the labour that goes into making it and that goes into getting the cocoa beans is very cheap so that they can afford to sell it at that price. But again when you want quality you have to spend a few more dollars,” Montano said.
Isabel Brash, the chocolate maker and managing director of Cocobel Chocolate, stated that chocolate should not be cheap because of the process involved in making it.
“I think that it was wrong in the beginning and that is what happened. So now we have to explain over 200 years later bad business. Chocolates should not be cheap. It really should not. I think we are making up for a lot of mistakes and that is just how it is,” Brash said.
According to recent data it is estimated that approximately 70 to 80 per cent of women are involved in the value added products cocoa value chain in this country.
Montano, Brash and Nath were asked to share what they considered their keys to success.
Cocoa being driedCocoa being dried
Montano listed the Trinitario cocoa as one of the main factors.
“Most important we are from paradise, we are from T&T and we are afforded the Trinitario cocoa bean that was made here. It came by chance but we can count ourselves as being one of eight countries that produce purely 100 per cent fine flavoured cocoa beans,” Montano said.
“Around 1678 a hybrid between the Criollo and Forastero trees originated in T&T,” the T&T Fine Cocoa Company stated.
Known for the floral, fruity characteristics, Trinitario is the predominant fine flavour chocolates today.
In the 19th century Trinitario trees spread across the globe and can be found in Venezuela, Ecuador, Cameroon, Samoa, Sri Lanka, Java and Papua New Guinea.
“We also believe in core values. And I think this has contributed a lot to our success. Hard work, excellence in whatever you do, always try to be excellent in whatever venture you take. Believing in ourselves and we believe that everything we do we can have success at and anything we have control over we can make a success,” Montano said.
Brash lauded her support system.
Nath listed “vision and perseverance” as her driving force.
“My father, 20 years ago when he started, it was very difficult for people to see where he was going. What are we doing with this old house. Vision is fine but without perseverance you are not going to get very far,” Nath said.
“Having been on this Ortinola journey for the last ten to 12 years with my parents and my family, I can really see when times get tough perseverance is what keeps you going and gets you going and leads ultimately to your success,” she said.
Montano lamented the barriers to entering new markets as a challenge.
“The problem we encountered was mainly entry barriers. If you want to go overseas so many different requirements. What is called for in the US may not be required in Europe,” Montano said.
Nath said when she first started making chocolate she faced a problem she did not initially know how to resolve.
“I spent six months with my bars continuously coming out streaky. It was very vexing to say the least I asked everyone I could think about and no one could figure it out. I then realised that my fridge was not cold enough, my room wasn’t cold enough and my temperature was probably slightly off,” she said.
Nath said she is now able to measure temperature by the back of her hand, without even using a thermometer
“I had to research, I bought a tempering machine, invested in some very expensive thermometers and material, good scrapers, good moulds. Basically it was trial and error and self-directed learning has helped me a lot. I am a reader by nature and that is extremely useful because in the value chain, chocolate is half science and half art,” she said.