Mundo de Chocolate

10 Jul

Beautifully crafted bombons of Lima-based Roselen Chocolatier

Last week, I attended the 4th annual “Salon del Cacao y Chocolate” in Lima, a showcase for cocoa growers and chocolate makers from all over Perú to present their products to an audience of chocolate industry players, international dignitaries such as the U.S. and French ambassadors, culinary superstars such as Astrid Gutsche, and the general public.

With Cecilia Ortiz, owner of Chocolates D’Cecy

I was there, aside from personal motives of scarfing down diabetes-inducing quantities of free samples, to support three businesses that Technoserve works with in Tarapoto: Exotic Chocolatier (the first chocolate boutique in San Martin province, and producer of amazing bonbons); Nativos Chocolicores (a remarkable success story of a woman entrepreneur who sells chocolates filled with “aphrodisiac” liquor of the region, and who has in the time I have been in Tarapoto, gone from having nothing more than a business plan to making appearances on the national stage); and D’Cecy, a successful local manufacturer of chocolates and snack products such as plantain chips, potato straws, and popcorn.  Over the latter part of my time in Tarapoto, I have worked most closely with Cecy, the namesake owner of the business.

Exchanging kisses with First Lady Nadine Herredia

My work with chocolatiers has allowed me to have some fascinating and unique experiences. Last month, I got to meet the First Lady of Perú at an event in Tarapoto in which she spoke to women chocolate entrepreneurs and cocoa producers. The photo above is of me greeting La Primera Dama, Nadine Herredia, wife of President Ollanta Humala. “Un honor,” I told her. Even more thrilling than that moment was seeing Sra. Nadine try one of Cecy’s chocotejas, and remark approvingly to her, “Bonito tu presentación!

Cocoa beans are obtained from these pods which grow on trees

Although I’ve by no means become an agricultural expert, I’ve had the good fortune to learn a lot about how cocoa is grown on farms, how the pods are harvested and cut open to obtain the seeds (cocoa beans), how the beans are fermented, dried, cleaned, toasted, shelled, milled, conched, and tempered. I’ve worked with the associations and cooperatives that stockpile cocoa to sell to large buyers, and seen how top-quality chocolate is made at the industrial factory level, the semi-industrial level, and the artisanal level. Of course this means I have become a chocolate snob!

Celebrating three of our entrepreneurs having their production process certified to sell in supermarkets and other public venues

While I have worked with participants throughout the cocoa value chain, most of my efforts have not been for the producers or processors, but for those bringing finished products to the market. With chocolate businesses of various sizes, I spent the past several months working on all aspects of their business. My priorities were different depending on the needs and complexity of each business — some needed help setting up basic financial and accounting controls, others with developing marketing material such as catalogs with pro-quality photos of their products, and all with creating or expanding a sales strategy which included appropriate pricing and exploiting new sales channels.

Earlier this year, I worked as an intermediary between a couple of less-mature chocolatiers and a food processing engineer to help them improve their production processes (connect them with suppliers of better quality chocolate, identify ideal ratio of chocolate to balance taste and melting point) and lower their costs of production. As mentioned in an earlier post, I also helped these businesses obtain their Registro Sanitario (health certificates) so that they could sell their chocolates via official points-of-sale like supermarkets–this got us coverage in the local newspaper.

When my colleague Armandine and I first got our entrepreneurs’ products offered at local supermarket Bigote, a convoluted, torturous process in which we even designed and printed the marketing material for Bigote to promote these chocolates, it felt like a huge victory. Several months later, though, not all of those businesses have since gone on to great success–for example, one of my favorite young entrepreneurs had to suspend her efforts because, as the single mother of a young infant, she realized she didn’t have the time or resources to dedicate to a start-up.

Local TV ad for Cecy’s snack products line; the commercial spoofs the popular song “No Juegues Con El Diablo” to promote her chips

I began working with Cecy as a follow-up to the excellent work my colleague Gaby did to implement production controls at Cecy’s small production plant and to provide readily available analysis on advanced themes such as profitability per product line/presentation, detailed breakdowns of personnel and raw materials costs, and more. I built on that information by combining it with a project I had been brainstorming — the creation of a basic, Spanish language, easy-to-use “business intelligence” system which any entrepreneur or their employees could use to enter sales data, purchases, production records, and other details important to a business. In order to make the experience the most user-friendly (especially for the less computer-savvy) and widely accessible (Excel-based), I spent a number of weeks staying up late at night learning how to use Visual Basic to create interactive data forms and drop-down menus, populate databases behind-the-scenes, and automate report generation.

With the tool I have developed, from one handy file on her computer, Cecy now can enter her raw materials purchases, fixed costs, sales data, labor costs, and daily production of each of her products — and receive reports on her monthly purchases, see trends in the pricing of her raw materials, view sales reports by time periods and by clients, understand her historical labor costs, see production costs and times down to a daily level, manage inventory, and more. As I further developed this system, initially just for use on Cecy’s line of snack products, she so liked the usability and functionality, she asked me to expand the system to include her chocolate side of the business as well!

Interactive data forms allow for easy input of data, and tracking of every order placed by every client

Parts of this model are still under development, but I am sharing a generic version with the other Technoserve consultants so that they can implement the tool with the businesses they advise. Within the next few weeks, once I return from vacation, I also intend to publish a version to this blog for non-proprietary public use and to allow others to develop further (with proper attribution) in the hopes that other micro- and small-businesses can benefit from this free Spanish-language tool.

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5 Responses to “Mundo de Chocolate”

  1. nj July 14, 2012 at 12:32 pm #

    yo this is all good and i’m sure your clients will be much benefited by your tireless efforts, but what does this have to do with the conspiracy to keep west African cocoa farmers poor?
    also, your computer science skills from 2004 are finally coming in handy!

  2. Andrew Tourtellot July 14, 2012 at 3:33 pm #

    Man, nice work giving me some faith in the software world again! And awesome that you met the First Lady.

  3. neharustagi July 14, 2012 at 5:21 pm #

    good stuff, dude! (that’s all i got.)

  4. Tracy July 15, 2012 at 9:42 pm #

    The bonbons look amazing! I am so jealous that you get to learn how chocolate is made….you’ll have to teach me everything you know when you get back!

  5. Paola Morales July 20, 2012 at 5:09 pm #

    Me he quedado sorprendida de tu capacidad vendedora Jay, describes muy bien el trabajo que hace TechnoServe en San Martín, sumado a que has sido uino de los mejores aqui… te vamos a extrañar

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