According to TCHO’s chief chocolate maker Brad Kintzer, these flavor labs (located in Ecuador, Peru, Dominican Republic and Ghana) are part of TCHO’s sourcing program, which also offers cocoa farmers “industry-changing technologies.”
Obstacles of sourcing high-quality cocoa beans
TCHO originally started in 2008 with a goal of creating the highest quality single-origin chocolate.
However, the team realized many cocoa farmers did not have the experience of making or eating their own chocolate.
“That was a big obstacle when we tried to source quality beans from farmers who are completely disconnected from the flavors and quality of finished products,” said Kintzer.
“It became very clear that we almost cannot do our business properly without ingraining ourselves in those [cocoa] growing regions… helping farmers produce better products is a win-win for everybody involved, and our brand culture speaks to that value system.”
What makes matters worse is that the chocolate industry overall has heavily focused on helping farmers improve their yields rather than recognizing the diversity in cocoa flavor profiles.
At one of TCHO’s cocoa research centers in Ghana for example, scientists used to provide farmers with selected seedlings that can increase production volume, according to Kintzer.
“But we realized the more they are heading in that direction, the more we are losing this well-known signature flavor profile that comes from that region: the rich, chocolaty, and burnt brownie flavor that most people love,” he said.
“Now we have a lab where we can train those scientists like how we train farmers, so they not only optimize for yields but for quality as well… That way, we can save these heirloom cocoa varietals.”
Targeting markets based on flavor preferences
Kintzer noted the sensory training could take a long time because “the development of flavor in cocoa is nuanced and can be affected by many different control points – from soil, to the weather, to how long the cocoa beans are dried in direct sunlight and beyond.
“But once farmers and technical directors master the skill of distinguishing cocoa flavors of different origins, they will take the knowledge to target different demographics around the world with particular beans based on their preferences.
“Each of these farmers can charge a premium on top of their base market price for cocoa if they sell flavor profiles to markets that way,” he added.
TCHO to increase production after Ezaki Glico’s acquisition
Over the past 10 years, TCHO has moved its headquarters to Berkeley, California, from San Francisco, and extended its product lines with several new flavors and formats, including the latest cinnamon spice dark chocolate bites.
In February this year, Japanese food giant Ezaki Glico, which produces Pocky, acquired the chocolate company from Emil Capital Partners.
Kintzer told ConfectioneryNews that TCHO’s business has been performing well, even though “there are growing pains occasionally from integrating two companies and cultures.
“The acquisition is not just about a Japanese company wanting to compete in the US craft chocolate market… they really believe that the work we have been doing at cocoa origin can be expanded,” he said, adding Ezaki Glico has just invested in installing a set of new state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment at TCHO’s facility.
“The installation will be completed by the end of this year, and we will increase our capacity, consistency and chocolate quality,” added Kintzer.