Bridging the gap in the world of cocoa

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Monday, April 23 2018

On the shelves of a quaint, little bakery in the town of Orford in Suffolk, England, bars of single-origin chocolate dressed in neat brown packages are lined up in rows. This is the home of Pump Street Bakery Chocolate, an award-winning brand of bean-to-bar premium chocolate. Among its range of fine, dark chocolate bars is the Solomon Islands 72% dark chocolate bar, the lone bar representing the Pacific under the Pump Street Bakery brand.

About 15,000 kilometres away on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, David Natei tends to his picturesque farm of cocoa trees flourishing under the tropical climate in neat, evenly-spaced rows. This is the home of cocoa beans which, upon ripening, are harvested, fermented and sun-dried before being shipped to the United Kingdom.

The quality of cocoa produced in the Pacific has improved and is gaining attention from international premium chocolate makers.

PHAMA’s purpose

Given the vast distance between Europe and the Pacific, the chances of cocoa seller and buyer meeting at random and striking up a business deal are quite slim. To bridge this gap, it is the Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access (PHAMA) Program that steps in to link the buyer and seller.

PHAMA is an Australian and New Zealand-funded program that assists Pacific Island Countries (PICs) manage export regulation requirements. It also assists PICs in gaining access for fresh and value-added products into new markets. With offices in Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu, PHAMA has been instrumental in helping PICs maintain and improve existing trade.

Cocoa is one of several commodities the program has helped to develop for export purposes, specifically in Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. Premium cocoa beans are not the easiest ingredient to find; a struggle familiar to premium chocolate makers who have had to travel extensively and to far-reaching places just to get their hands on good quality cocoa.

Pump Street Bakery has added the Solomon Islands dark chocolate bar to its range of chocolate products. PC: Pump Street Bakery

Connecting people

Pump Street Bakery owner Chris Brennan recalls how two years ago PHAMA’s cocoa advisor, Hannah Wheaton, contacted him in the hopes of introducing him to a cocoa supplier in the Solomon Islands.

“Hannah sent me some samples and the chocolates that came out from that was good. We began to source more beans from the Solomon Islands and made more chocolates. PHAMA has done a great job in getting me connected to Solomon Islands cocoa. The program has a good concept and I wouldn’t have found the farm in Guadalcanal by myself so PHAMA’s approach is great,” he said.

Diana Yates processes and exports cocoa in the Solomon Islands and has received significant support from PHAMA in the form of training and solar dryers. Her contract terms have improved significantly as a result of PHAMA’s negotiations with buyers, freighters and insurers.

“Exporting cocoa is tough business but (through PHAMA support) we’ve been able to find market access in the niche market and also have an understanding of the financial aspects of the business.

“The finance training has been very useful. Before, we didn’t know if we were making money or losing money. We can now negotiate better contracts with buyers. Selling into the normal market, I can only get a low price but I can get more than double selling to buyers introduced by PHAMA,” she said.

Impact on Pacific cocoa

An impact assessment carried out by PHAMA in 2017 reveals the program has played an important role in linking buyers, exporters and growers; improving the quality of cocoa through the procurement and trial of solar dryers and improving the prices of bulk and premium cocoa.

In the Solomon Islands, PHAMA has assisted bulk cocoa exporters to negotiate better contract terms resulting in a 12 per cent price improvement for over 50 per cent of all cocoa sold (over 2,500 tonnes). This intervention is expected to return AUD4.5million in additional income for the country’s cocoa industry through to 2020. For its premium market, PHAMA facilitated sales of improved quality into premium markets; attracting a premium of more than 100 per cent above standard bulk prices. Six Solomon Islands’ cocoa businesses are now exporting to premium cocoa buyers in Australia, New Zealand, England, Belgium and France, sharing in over AUD900,000 in extra income through to 2020.

In Vanuatu, PHAMA successfully assisted with improving contract terms for exporters, resulting in a price improvement of 10–12 per cent. Improved contract terms for bulk cocoa are expected to return an additional AUD0.75million through to 2020.

In Samoa, PHAMA’s support has resulted in improvements to the quality of the export bean. The additional income facilitated by PHAMA filters through to over 20,000 rural households in Solomon Islands, 9,000 households in Vanuatu and hundreds of households in Samoa.

PHAMA has helped cocoa growers and processors with the construction of solar dryers to improve the quality of export cocoa.

Marketing the Pacific

By addressing quality issues, cocoa growers are now more confident of entering samples for international events like the Cocoa of Excellence Program in Paris. Some have gone as far to attain recognition for the quality of cocoa they produce.

Chocolate makers like Pump Street Chocolate and Islands Cacao now distinctly label and brand their chocolate bars by the name of the country from where they’ve sourced cocoa to make a particular bar. These initiatives have boosted the visibility and popularity of Pacific cocoa.

As Chris Brennan explains, “When I sell a bar in Paris, I tell my customers this is a bar from David’s farm in Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. I get good feedback and this is publicity for the Solomon Islands. People don’t just buy my chocolates, they ask for Solomon Islands, Grenada or St Vincent.”

Pacific cocoa is definitely turning heads.

Ends

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