It comes amid a push from the government to sustain and grow the nation’s leadership in fine flavor (fino de aroma) cocoa.
Hacienda Victoria executive director Andres Guzman told ConfectioneryNews the likes of Nestlé, Lindt, Mars, Ritter Sport, Petra Foods and Valrhona had all visited Victoria’s 500 hectare fine flavor cocoa plantation in Ecuador.
Barry Callebaut’s CEO also visited the plantation last month and expressed interest in buying the entire output of the plantation based in Chongón, 30 minutes from the city of Guayaquil, said Guzman.
Big firms to serve premium niches
“Mondelēz, Callebaut and Nestlé are going to attend these niches because they see a lot of growth. They are going to jump on this market and compete with craft chocolatiers,” he said.
Guzman added that while multinationals were showing keen interest, they had yet to sign any contracts and he expects Victoria’s main customer-base will be craft chocolatiers.
“It’s a very high premium. I don’t want to give false expectations to anyone,” he said, adding that buyers should expect at least a 20% premium above the market price.
Victoria’s 500-hectare plantation was established five years ago. The company plans to grow the plantation to 1,000 hectares in the next five years and will continue to produce only Arriba fine flavor cocoa beans.
Chocolate without lecithin
Guzman claimed it was possible to create a tasteful additive-free chocolate with beans from the Victoria plantation. He said Italian brand Domori was producing a chocolate with Victoria beans containing no lecithin or vanilla, only cocoa nibs and sugar.
The executive director said this was possible when sourcing from a single estate rather than a single fine flavor origin as chocolate makers can ensure they have consistent beans all correctly fermented and not mixed with non-fine flavor beans.
“I think the single origin model is OK, but you don’t guarantee traceability in that model,” said Guzman.
Hacienda Victoria’s employees and land
Hacienda Victoria directly employs 150 farmers, who earn above minimum wage. According to the company, the land of the plantation was tropical forest many years ago, but the nearby town of Guayaquil suffered a large fire in the 1950s and was rebuilt using wood from the forest. Therefore Victoria removed only shrubberies from the land and no primary forest, it says.
Traceability with 24/7 cameras
How is the plantation financed?
Andres Guzman’s uncle Carlos Garcia is financing the Hacienda Victoria project. He is the owner of the biggest household supplier in Ecuador, La Ganga.
At Hacienda Victoria’s plantation, cocoa beans pass through a digital scale when entering the fermentation area. Buyers can track the fermentation of the beans they will buy via software and also have access to a 24/7 camera to view the process.
“I know they won’t look at it 24/7, but it gives them some confidence,” said Guzman.
He said his plantation had achieved yields of two metric tons (MT) per hectare with only fine flavor Arriba trees, matching the output of many high yielding clones. The director said it was previously believed Ecuadorian fine flavor cocoa could achieve a maximum of 0.5 MT per hectare.
Fine flavor renaissance in Ecuador
Exporting to the world
Victoria has warehouses in Hamburg, Germany and in California and New Jersey in the US and delivers directly to chocolate manufacturers. Guzman said he would only need to sign a paper if a customer desired a certification label such as Fairtrade or UTZ Certified.
Guzman continued that there was an appetite in Ecuador to cement its reputation for fine flavor cocoa and farmers had begun to plant fine flavor trees again rather than high-yielding varieties such as CCN-51.
“The renaissance of fine flavor cocoa in Ecuador is beginning,” he said. “People were worrying about the yield rather than the quality – Ecuador was going to lose its image for cocoa.”
Ecuador is the leading producer of fine flavor cocoa, a unique category of beans with a floral or fruity flavor that makes up for around 5% of the world’s supply. The South American nation accounts for two thirds of global fine flavor cocoa sales.
The country intends to industrialize its fine flavor cocoa sector with large scale cluster plantations producing novel varieties of cacao, a government representative told this site in August.