Part II: Bean to bar Nugali unveils chocolate coated bananas & cupuaçu plans
In Part II of our feature, [See Part I HERE], ConfectioneryNews speaks to Blumenschein, who set up the firm with his wife Maite Lang, about winning silver at the International Chocolate Awards, plans to open a visitor center next year, the launch of a Cupuaçu product and a greenhouse-filled mini rainforest.
Cacau Dragées a 63% dark chocolate covered banana
The main challenges of becoming a manufacturer from bean to bar are those related to chocolate, according to the entrepreneur, because the very nature of the product can be delicate, sensitive, temperamental and finicky.
“It’s not an exact science, it took a lot of time and patience to learn how to make our bars better and create new products,” said Blumenschein.
“The first years were tough on this subject matter - to learn how the chocolate develops, as well as the challenges to starting a business. We put our personal lives on hold for more than 10 years. It’s hard work but rewarding. To export and own this kind of business especially in Brazil is quite challenging. The country is not friendly for business in general and every day we learn something new to win different challenges.”
He said ideas for the flavors come from the market itself or a ‘why not try this?’, or ideas that stem from the ingredients themselves.
Both Blumenschein and Lang try to meet other cocoa growers as much as they can to figure out what would be a good product to preserve, enrich or give added value to with a certain flavor.
“Some things make more sense but it is exhaustive testing each one and conching for a certain amount of hours, roasting at different levels, trying various formulations with more or less sugar, with a vanilla extract or without,” he said.
The company currently employs two food engineers that are focusing on making different combinations and formulas. It has also identified a number of people in the team that have a talent for tasting and they carry panels for tasting 35 products, with 20 different flavors.
“We plan to launch a Cupuaçu product next month, which is a particular type of fruit found in the Amazon rainforest. Last month we launched Cacau Dragées a 63% dark chocolate covered banana. The banana is freeze dried inside to take away the water. We don’t use any artificial flavorings or preservatives,” added Blumenschein.
“The packaging needs to reflect the quality of the product, especially when you are offering your merchandise to people who don’t know the brand. The only way they can guess what is inside is by the packaging itself. For the first sale, the wrapping has a big relevance - not so much once the product is well known because by then they know the product, but it’s fundamental for that first contact.
“All the colors in our packaging are related to the ingredients, the darker the cocoa the darker the color of the packaging. The banana product has yellow packaging related to the fruit.”
Blumenschein worked in the flight testing department at Brazilian aircraft manufacturer, Embraer. He has designed most of the manufacturing equipment at Nugali himself. Other machinery is imported from Netzsch Group in Germany, or from Brazil.
Talking about a visitor center to be built next year, the father-of-two said all its facilities are based in Pomerode, Brazil, where it currently has one office with 35 staff. It now plans to build a factory there for visitors to come and see the processing steps/stages via a glass wall to see how each step of the process happens and it is building a greenhouse with cocoa trees, which are already ready to be moved.
“We bought the seeds and plants five years ago. Some survived, but others did not. The most cold resistant survived. Depending on the year they produce fruits even though they are far away from their natural habitat, and we will have a controlled climate in the greenhouse, which is 150m²,” he added.
“We need to move the trees into the greenhouse by Easter 2018, we have this specific ‘window’ as the process of moving will impact our production for one month, and the best time is after Easter after the high consumption period, when it’s more calm.”
Blumenschein said his favorite chocolate bars are the 70% and 80% cocoa when the harvest produces beans that are not bitter.
“We try to keep the price as low as we can (approximately $5 a bar) because we are a small company. We currently produce around 60-80 tons a year, and we are planning to increase this to 100 tons a year. It’s not very much for a small company, a large manufacturer will produce this amount once a week,” he said.
“Looking at the profile of our customers some are health conscious, or have an intolerance to certain ingredients. We were one of the first manufacturers in Brazil to lactose and gluten free products. Some customers have a high loyalty to the brand and have been buying from us for over 10 years.
“People have even come to us after being advised by a nutritionist to eat high cocoa content and they mention Nugali, which is a great achievement for us. Consumers are also getting to understand chocolate better and are actively looking for products with higher cocoa content, more taste and less sugar.
'This kind of health conscious customer is great of course and we love it if they love the brand, but they are also very demanding because they have high standards.'
Nugali co-founder Ivan Blumenschein
Health conscious consumers
“This kind of health conscious customer is great of course and we love it if they love the brand, but they are also very demanding because they have high standards. If you disappoint this kind of customer you can break the relationship very easily and its hard to mend it. We need to be more demanding than they are all the time, it’s a good pressure for us, it’s a pressure to maintain quality.
“The US would be a great market to break into but it’s tough to get in. It’s also difficult for us to enter Europe – it’s harder to do business there as a small company. We would need a distributor. We have already contacted a POS (Point Of Sale) wholesale distributor interested in our product in Europe but those customers are usually small shops and chains and they don’t have the size to buy a container, so we need to create a partnership with a distributor who can put this all together, order it and divide a fraction or share of the order so this is a challenge for us. Hopefully, we will overcome this challenge in the next year.”
During the harvest season, Blumenschein said Nugali’s gourmet cocoa pods must be perfect without brown spots or any kind of disease. If the pods are less than perfect they go into a bulk cocoa pile sold at commodity prices.
The entrepreneur visits the Bahia rainforest twice a year, sometimes during the harvest period which can be any time in December or May.
“The time of year changes a lot. Especially this year as there was no second harvest due to a drought. There are other times when the trees produce more pods and there are fruits all year round. With the gourmet pods we need to check on the conditions of the plantation all the time and pick the ripe fruits,” he added.
“For economical reasons, bulk cocoa is harvested anyway but this means the pods are green and not ripened or over ripened because it has not yet fallen from the tree.
“If you want to use machines for harvesting you have to do industrial growing, but our plantation in Bahia is all done by hand, there are many hills in Bahia so its impossible to do this by machines.”
Once the beans are collected by hand and put into a basket, all the pods are piled together in one place where they are de-shelled. The skins are left on the ground for re-fertilization.
Hot chocolate beverages
Blumenschein added, it is better for the pods to be sun-dried than by fire because this can contaminate the product with smoke which is unacceptable for quality beans and chocolate.
“The better the quality of the beans the less you need to roast them. When they are of a poor quality you need to over-roast them to hide the defects,” he said.
Nugali also produces a hot chocolate drink, which came about after customers started to ask for recipes on how to make drinking chocolate with the products.
“Usually drinking chocolate is made with cocoa powder but if you press the beans into a powder in a hydraulic press filter but this separates the cocoa butter from the cocoa. This is a prized ingredient, not only for food but the cosmetics industry as it has a unique quality,” he said.
“When you use powder as a drink you end up using cocoa from a low quality bean. People asked us how to make it with real chocolate. We did three products made with real chocolate not powder and you have to mix it with hot milk to make a hot chocolate or cappuccino or xocolatl, from the Nahuatl word ‘bitter water’. It was an Aztec beverage spiced with seeds, pepper and spices from Latin America. We use the same spices as then to pay homage to that tradition.”