Sustainable cocoa and coffee

Óbolo and Pangoa: chocolate with purpose for an inclusive business

March 23, 2022
Natalia Palomino
Comunicación y gestión de fondos | Perú y Ecuador

Pangoa, a Peruvian farmers’ organisation, is known to produce fine native cocoa of the highest quality. Óbolo Chocolate, in Chile, makes internationally award-winning chocolate from bean to bar, using only organic cocoa from Pangoa. Together they make a winning duo, recognised in international markets.

They began their business relationship in 2013, but it was when the first award was given to Óbolo by the London Chocolate Academy in 2016 that they knew the recipe "clicked". Since then, they have reaped the fruits of an inclusive business model, based on mutual trust and warmth between the teams.

CAC partners during cocoa harvest
CAC partners during cocoa harvest © Óbolo chocolate

The start of a journey

Cocoa harvest by óbolo chocolate
Cocoa harvest by óbolo chocolate © Óbolo chocolate

It was 2013 when Mark Gerrits, founder and CEO of Óbolo Chocolate, and in love with cocoa and the Amazon rainforest, began to dream of making chocolate from the cocoa bean in Chile, with cocoa from neighbouring Peru. At the time he was working for a non-profit organisation that promoted biodiversity conservation, which gave him a goal: to make chocolate for a healthier life with certified beans and to contribute to a more sustainable planet by making the chocolate closer to the point of production, resulting in a smaller carbon footprint. That year he travelled to the Salón de Cacao y Chocolate in Peru and wanted to meet the local producers. From Chile, he visited the Peruvian jungle to get to know different production areas and the team behind the cocoa bean. "We wanted to make sure we were working with producers who shared our values and would work with us for the long term," he explains.

After a trial purchase with a cooperative in northern Peru, before his return to Chile, Gerrits visited Satipo - in the Junin region, located in the central Peruvian Amazonia - on a scouting trip. He made contact with Esperanza Dionisio and Virgilio García of the Pangoa cooperative, whom he had met a year earlier at the Salon del Cacao y Chocolate in Lima. "I spent three days with them and realised that I had to work with Pangoa because of the quality of the people, the cocoa, and the integration they have with the community. I knew it was my destiny. And you know how life is... that cocoa that I had bought in the north never arrived," he recalls.

Mark Gerrits and Virgilio García in cocoa quality control process © Óbolo chocolate

Tradition of teamwork. Since the beginning of their relationship, Virgilio and Mark have worked closely together to achieve (the perfect bean) what is today the Pangoa chocolate profile for Óbolo.

Virgilio García, the cooperative's Industry Area Manager, explains that the chocolate profile for Óbolo is very particular: a mix of fruity flavours, citric acidity, red fruits and even banana, morello cherry and blackberry flavours. "This is characteristic of their formula as well as ours".

"From the beginning we wanted to do something very personalised. A bag-by-bag sampling of Pangoa cocoa that the client (Óbolo) might like for his chocolates. We do it together, and we have maintained that tradition to this day".

Virgilio García

Plant manager at CAC Pangoa

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Mutual benefits

Albino Nuñez, Commercial Manager of the cooperative, believes that customers find in Pangoa a partner that delivers what it promises. Albino adds that Rikolto has contributed to them (Pangoa) by facilitating access to markets and providing training to improve product quality. The results can be seen in their relationship with Óbolo and in the portfolio of clients with similar demands, giving the cooperative a broader perspective on the international market.

"Responsibility in the fulfilment of export contracts, professionalism and an efficient team. Defined areas and roles, to work in a transparent and orderly manner. Óbolo is a customer with a differentiated price, and that contributes to improving the income of our producers. Since we started working (with a group of high-level chocolatiers, including Óbolo) our partners have increased their income by 15%, due to the quality of the product". Albino Nuñez, Commercial Manager of CAC Pangoa

Mark Gerrits and CAC partner © Óbolo chocolate

Relationship philosophy. The benefit has to be perceived from both sides: the cooperative provides a quality product, the customer receives a tailor-made product, and the customer has to pay a fair price.

Since 2017, the relationship between Pangoa and Óbolo has gone from recognition and commercial exchange to the signing of a collaboration framework agreement in which three areas of work were prioritised: commercial, social and environmental, with a business perspective. Mark says that Rikolto's role was key:

"Rikolto has been a key strategic partner accompanying the relationship. Together, the three of us have developed the first quality process manual for fine flavour cocoa and trained 50 cocoa farmers in biodynamic farm management." Mark Gerrits, CEO of Óbolo

Óbolo shares an award won at the Academy of Chocolate with CAC © Óbolo chocolate

International awards. Between 2019 and 2020, Pangoa chocolate was distinguished at the International Chocolate Awards and at the Salon Du Chocolat Paris. Óbolo (with Pangoa cocoa) was also recognised by the Academy of Chocolate.

Gerrits stresses that theirs is not a commercial relationship but a long-term commitment based on common values. "We share an interest in the cultivation of fine aroma cocoa and the vision of turning it into traceable chocolate. We are proud of what we have achieved with Pangoa; a long-term relationship of friendship, not just commercial."

Confidence that exceeds expectations

Purchases from Pangoa began in 2013, but it was in 2017 that Óbolo expanded orders. In 2020, a year marked by the pandemic, they bought 3,000 kg of selected organic cocoa, 500 kg of cocoa powder and 500 kg of butter. In 2021, the quantity was increased to 4,000 kg of selected organic cocoa beans.

"This long-term continuity helps the planning of the production partners. I would like to see more Óbolos all over the world". Esperanza Dionisio, former manager of Pangoa

Thanks to the quality they offer, they have managed to agree on a price with Óbolo that is more than double that quoted on the stock exchange, i.e. US$ 5 compared to US$ 2.3 per kilo of cocoa beans. In Peru, these kinds of prices exceed expectations, even more so knowing that they are prices established in agreement with the cooperative. "We set a price with Pangoa because we believe that this is the right thing to do. They can pay an extra benefit to their members," says the CEO.

Mark Gerrits with CAC partners © Óbolo chocolate

"Market prices do not always reflect whether the deal has been fair to the community or whether the production has any negative environmental consequences". Mark Gerrits

Óbolo is currently exploring new markets, taking Pangoa cocoa to new horizons. "We have sent batches of chocolate to the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany, and we recently exported for the first time to Singapore and Australia. You could say that, through Óbolo, Pangoa cocoa has reached all five continents," says Gerrits.

Another benefit is constant training. Members of the cooperative have visited the Óbolo plant in Santiago de Chile on several occasions to train with their team of chocolatiers and generate greater integration between the two parties.

"For the relationship to work we have to get to know each other, to align ourselves on the long-term view," says Gerrits, who also travels frequently to Pangoa.

Group photo of the CAC partners
Group photo of the CAC partners © Óbolo chocolate
Chocolate production in the CAC Pangoa plant
Chocolate production in the CAC Pangoa plant © Óbolo chocolate

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A chocolate with purpose

Mark Gerrits and CAC members visiting farms © Óbolo chocolate

The production and relationship with Pangoa provides Óbolo with the necessary elements to think long-term. "The fact that our relationship has not been affected by the pandemic is a good reflection on what we have built over the last six years," Mark says.

Professional equipment, quality production, responsibility, customer knowledge and transparency are just the basis of this relationship. As an entrepreneur, Mark also values the social and conservation commitment in Pangoa, so by doing business with Óbolo, the farmers are gaining a reliable business partner interested in their current well-being in the long term.

The relationship with Óbolo gives Pangoa the opportunity to think about profit sharing and a business that provides funds for environmental and social purposes from the sale of cocoa and its derivatives (butter, powder, wafers). "That translates into developing opportunities for the younger generation as well as for biodiversity conservation." Pangoa actively works for its customers to recognise initiatives led by them linked to young people and the genetic rescue of cocoa, turning them into commercial allies with a sustainable purpose.

CAC and Mark on one of their visits
CAC and Mark on one of their visits © Óbolo chocolate

"The commercial world needs more purpose to help the planet", Mark comments from Chile. "The relationship with Pangoa, in addition to providing us with excellent quality cocoa, helps us to take on a purpose beyond simply selling chocolate. Personally, it keeps me connected to the energy and vitality of that corner of the planet that is the Amazon. That brings me a lot of happiness."

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