The Nicaraguan cocoa bean supplier says it is building a strong customer base of chocolate makers looking for unique cocoa flavors, particularly with US-based customers.
US chocolatiers drawn to Nicaraguan origin cocoa
“We notice in the US that there are hundreds of start-ups in fine chocolate, chocolate makers who look for something different – a new origin,” Tom De Winne, head of innovation and traceability at Ingermann told ConfectioneryNews.
At around 4,000 MT per year, Nicaragua accounts for under 0.3% of a global cocoa supply heavily concentrated in West Africa. The World Bank says Nicaragua could have been where Christopher Columbus first tasted cocoa – although others claim he got his first try after robbing the cargo of a native Mayan trader near modern Honduras.
The Danish owners of Ingemann entered Nicaragua in 2007 as beekeepers. In 2013, the company acquired cocoa bean supplier Xoco Nicaragua. Today, it suppliers cocoa beans that are verified through its own certification standard Cocoa-ID.
“The fine chocolate market is a growing market and a lot of new people are starting their business. It’s the perfect moment,” said De Winne.
Last year, Ritter Sport purchased land for a cocoa plantation in Nicaragua to eventually cover 30% of its cocoa needs and give it greater control of its supply.
Ingemann’s Nicaraguan cocoa is used by Friis-Holm Chocolate, which has won several medals at the International Chocolate Awards.
Ingemann supplies six types of fine cocoa, which come from single variety cacao trees.
The company has supplied around a million trees to 350 Nicaraguan farmers and the farmers agree to sell their cocoa to Ingemann in return.
“It provides them direct market access and they don’t have to worry about drying and fermentation because we collect at farmgate," said De Winne. "We will pass by on a weekly basis with a truck full of fermentation boxes to start the post-harvest processing and to have splendid control in all the steps.”
In Nicaragua, fermentation is typically performed by farming cooperatives.
“There is a big problem between the cooperatives. They are mainly run by locals so because they live in a different culture their reference for quality and life standards is not the same as what we have as expectations for quality in Europe and the USA. That’s why we can be more consistent," said De Winne.
The Eye Falls
“They seemed to hold these almonds at a great price; for when they were brought on board ship together with their goods, I observed that when any of these almonds fell, they all stooped to pick it up, as if an eye had fallen.”
Christopher Columbus describes how indigenous people in Central America regarded the ‘almond-like’ cocoa beans. He allegedly brought the beans back to Europe for the first time after his fourth New World visit between 1502 and 1504.
Farmers paid substantial premium
Ingemann pays farmers a 25% premium on top of the New York cocoa price. Certification organizations such as Fairtrade and UTZ Certified typically pay premiums of $150-200 per metric ton (MT). Ingemann’s premiums at the today’s New York price ($2,973 per MT) work out at $684 per MT.
De Winne said Ingemann paid such a high price due high competition in the country. “To avoid us losing fine flavor cocoa of these special varieties, we say we have the highest price – that it’s unbeatable.”
“We don’t lose cocoa at the moment to competition, so it works perfectly.”
Nicaragua was embroiled in conflict between 1960 and 1990 and was also devastated by an earthquake in 1992 and Hurricane Mitch in 1998.
Does the potential for hurricanes in the country pose a threat to chocolate makers sourcing cocoa from Nicaragua?
“It’s a threat in all cocoa regions in the Caribbean. If it happens, it won’t happen only in Nicaragua – it will be a disaster for the Dominican Republic mainly, then Honduras, Mexico and Belize - they will all be influenced by the same disaster,” said De Winne.
He added that earthquakes in Nicaragua tended to occur on the Pacific side, while cocoa was grown mainly in the mountains.