Homegrown chocs give hope to farmers

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Pauline Songco

One of young entrepreneur Mark Ocampo’s goals is to put the Philippines on the world cocoa map with the help of the local chocolate brand he created with his best friend, Kelly Go.

Auro is a Filipino bean-to-bar chocolate company that sources cocoa beans directly from farming communities in Davao. The brand uses one of the rarest heirloom cacao variety, Criolloa Porcelana, deemed as the purest and much coveted variety with just 0.1 percent of the world’s total cacao population.

STOCKROOM of cacao beans sourced from Davao.

The beans are roasted in small batches to enhance their flavor. The process brings out the best quality of the beans before combining them with all-natural ingredients, creating the finest single-origin chocolate products that people have been clamoring for.

“We wanted to create a local chocolate brand that could compete in the international market. We really want to be able to push the industry because the main thing is that we are making our chocolate using local ingredients but at the same time we want it to be comparable to international brands,” Ocampo tells Daily Tribune.

Auro offers 33 percent white chocolate, 40 percent milk chocolate, 55 percent, 64 percent and 77 percent dark chocolate in the form of bars, blocks or couverture coins. During the recent 2018 Academy of International Chocolate Awards, Auro took home two Bronze awards for its 32 percent Roasted White Chocolate Cashew and 70 percent Saloy Reserve.

Discovering Auro

The brand’s journey began seven years ago when one of the founders, Jacqueline Go, discovered that a well-known artisanal chocolate company in the United States uses cocoa beans from Davao. She personally travelled to Davao only to find out that farmers had cut their trees as they see no more value in them.

As they studied more, they realized that the Philippines actually had cacao for 300 years. “We’re actually the first country in Asia to grow cacao and yet for some reason we haven’t made anything in terms of finished products, except for Tablea. For us, sayang naman (it’s a pity) that we have been growing cacao for so long, and for a country that has at the market in Davao at the time there was an all-in buying system, there was no support about quality, nobody cared about pricing. The price was very low and it was really just the buying in bulk of cacao ingredients. But for us, we really wanted to make a positive change in the community by giving our farmers back the value. Instead of having just a one-time buying relationship with them, we wanted to improve their quality and so we can pay them significantly higher for their produce. So that’s why we ended up doing chocolate.”

Empowering farmers

CHOCOLATES are now molded into couverture coins.

The brand’s ultimate goal is not only to be known as the best Filipino chocolate company, but also as a brand that empowers local farmers. Through the years, it is evident that the ability of local farmers is hindered by many factors such as poor management and infrastructure.

To help farmers with their produce, Auro developed a holistic program to regularly train farmers and cooperative leaders on agricultural practices like running farms as business.

Data from Auro show that they are working directly with over 10 cocoa-producing cooperatives and 80 individual farmers/entrepreneurs.

“There’s still so much untapped potential in the agricultural industry in the Philippines. So for us, especially as a chocolate producer and also the endusers of the cacao, that we buy directly from farmers, it’s really important to focus on your relationship with farmers because apart from the ability to make chocolate you really need the raw materials. And for that you need to realize that farmers know it best,” Ocampo said.

Auro also developed a unique pricing structure that provides incentives to farmers to raise output. More than a thousand families and 2,000 hectares of farms have benefited from the said program.

“We want to give back to them because we wanted to stop the abuse of agricultural relationships, we wanted to be able to support the community and actually empower the farmers so that they can experience an improvement in terms of their livelihood,” Ocampo stressed. “A lot of the times when companies grow, palaging naiiwan ‘yung farmers and so for us we really want to grow and kasama rin ‘yung farmers na umaangat (farmers are always left behind and so for us, we really want to grow while uplifting farmers’ lives).”

He added: “Be focused on what it means on building a relationship with the farmers because that is the only way you are going to impact quality in the long term. That’s very important because chocolate is an agricultural product and if we are not able to fix it in the raw material phase, then there’s no way we can make quality chocolate. The only way we can affect the quality of chocolate is through working with the farmers and if the farmers don’t have the incentives that they need to be able to improve quality then there’s no way we can.”

Heritage meets innovation

MACHINES used for tempering and molding are made in Germany and Spain.

Despite the huge potentials of chocolate, only a few people had discovered how to maximize the benefits of cacao. Being a new player in the industry of chocolates, Auro has decided to play its part by elevating standards in cocoa production by investing in technology with the use of the world’s leading equipment such as Netzsch, Buhler and Sollich. Their 2,000 square-meter factory located in Calamba, Laguna is designed to meet the strictest standards of Philippines Export Processing Zone Authority (PEZA), good manufacturing practice (GMP) and hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP).

“It’s only the beginning. For us especially, there’s a lot more that we can do, there’s a lot more that we can push, there’s a lot more projects running for next year. I would say that there’s still so much untapped potential that we are only starting to work with,” he said.

The overall goal for the brand is to create a name for itself, something symbolically Filipino that can be recognized not only by the locals but also for Filipinos in the international community. When the time comes, they will be able to recognize the product and realize where it comes from.

Ocampo added “the people that we worked with and the brand wouldn’t exist without the cooperation, partnerships and relationships with the farmers. The main thing is that we are a farmer centered chocolate brand and we wouldn’t be here without them.”

Going global

Auro will be opening its first branch in Shibuya, Tokyo this coming September 13.
“That is a proud moment for us and for the Philippines, since the country has been carrying different brands for so long, and now a brand from the Philippines is brought outside aside from the most iconic one which is Jollibee that has been brought to the different parts of the world. It’s iconically Filipino,” he mentioned in excitement.

He further revealed that it was the Japanese management that reached out to them via Instagram.

“They ended up coming here to try all of the local chocolates. They really went around to try everything and they picked us out of all the brands that they tried. Then they decided that they wanted to bring us to Japan, not just as a distributor or selling it into stores, but they want to create an actual store.”

After Kultura, New World Hotels, Solaire and Conrad, Auro is looking for more platforms to tap.

“The plan for this year is to be in a lot more places. We’re targeting more supermarkets, for example, specialty stores, cafes, restaurants and hotels. Additionally, we’re also exporting.

It’s really a great time for us because not many Filipino brands that have kind of made names for themselves in a short amount of time. And the Philippines has been a constant supporter of Japanese products so it’s really nice for the Japanese to really see the value and bring it over to Japan believing that it could succeed over there.”

Committed to perfecting the art and science of making chocolates, Ocampo said we can all look forward to a lot of great partnerships in the future. “We’re working on special projects to separate the brand as a whole,” he affirms.

To know more about the brand, visit their website at www.aurochocolate.com.

p: wjg

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