New York-based premium chocolate retailer and manufacturer MarieBelle said it had the idea of sourcing cocoa beans directly from Honduras more than a decade ago – a long time before bean-to-bar became trendy.
And at the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York City, Maribel Lieberman - founder of the MarieBelle chain of chocolate stores and cafes - told this site how her bean-to-bar dark chocolate range was created.
Lieberman, a Honduras native, said most people are not aware that Honduras was the first country that Europeans discovered where people processed cocoa beans. The practice dated back 4,000 years, according to a study from the University of Pennsylvania, she added.
‘I want to help my country’
Lieberman opened her first store in New York City in 2000, and now operates two sites in New York City and four in Japan offering cocao-based products and beverages.
She started researching bean-to-bar chocolate in 2004, but it wasn’t until April 2014 when MarieBelle began producing its first single-sourced chocolate bars, using beans sourced from the northern region of Honduras.
What's driving the bean-to-bar trend?
Terms such as single source and bean-to-bar have become a sign of artisan chocolate in the US. Bean-to-bar chocolate has also benefited from the economic recovery in the US.
US consumers have “the psychological security and disposable income to indulge in pricey bean-to-bar chocolate,” chocolate industry veteran Terry Wakefield previously told ConfectioneryNews.
The country suffered a disastrous hurricane in 1999 that destroyed many crops, and Lieberman said she wants to help her homeland.
“Especially women," she added. "Because they are the most vulnerable ones."
Honduras continues to suffer poverty and food insecurity, said Lieberman.
“We’ve never taken advantage of our quality cocoa beans because most people only think about surviving," she said. "Compared to some other richer countries, like Venezuela, Honduran beans are less reputable.”
“I need to bring the best beans to our chocolate, and see myself as the spokesperson of Honduran cocoa beans," she told ConfectioneryNews.
Targeting Japanese consumers
MarieBelle bean-to-bar chocolate retails at around $4 for one of the 40 g bars, which are available in 15 flavors and sold mainly in US grocery chains and gourmet markets.
“I love fruity flavors," she said. "I can do 80% dark chocolate bar, and it still tastes like fruits. Our number one seller is a 99% dark chocolate bar, and it doesn’t taste very bitter,” she said.
Lieberman added that 30% of her business came from exports, with Japan the biggest export market.
“When we first started the company, most of our consumers were Japanese because they were attracted to our packaging,” she said.
MarieBelle also exports its products to Norway, Switzerland and the UK.
Controlling the flavor
Lieberman, who used to run a gourmet catering company, said the best part of manufacturing bean-to-bar chocolate was being able to control the flavor of the product herself and introduce the flavor of Honduran cocoa beans to the rest of the world
According to MarieBelle, company sales have typically grown 15% to 20% year-on-year, and after transitioning to bean-to-bar two years ago, are expected to grow by 30%.
MarieBelle’s chocolate is not yet Fair Trade Certified, but Lieberman hopes to have its products certified Fair Trade soon, and also plans to open a fermentation house in Honduras to employ more local people.