Fourteen years ago, the only chocolates quirkily displayed in Belize City, towns and village stores were Snickers, Mars and seldom a single option of a Cadbury’s chocolate bar. The latter only in select stores and afforded by a limited few. The international airport gift shops carry more options yet there were no locally produced craft chocolates.
The only known craft chocolate bar “Food of the Gods” was produced in the late 1990s. The bar was short-lived and vanished soon after, possibly a testament that Belize’s sweet palate was not ready to be altered.
Today, chocolate such as Lindt, Godiva, and Ferrero Rocher are prevalent thawing the existence of cacao infused candies. Only this time, locally made craft chocolate sits on par, if not higher even though it is not widespread throughout the country. The advent of the Belize craft chocolate industry, which reignited in 2007, has inched its way into select retail stores, primarily gift shops and airport concession stores. A triumph worthy of mention. We laud the image of Belizean chocolate, in increasing numbers over imported chocolate, on shelves. Especially at the international airport.
Yet local craft chocolate amounts to less than 30% of total chocolate consumed in Belize. It is simply targeted at the tourism market. Its sheer intrinsic value and cost best befit those that have an innate appreciation of the product. Furthermore, the lucid interest perceived to be had by visitors, in their quest for ethically and sustainably produced products and the paradigm shift in palates superseding economic cost, are the driving factors for most of the chocolate companies.
Mahogany Chocolate wanted to create chocolate bars for everyone. We set forth to do just that!
Not only did we want to add additional varieties and flavor options to the growing industry but we planned to bridge the gap to make high-quality chocolate products affordable and accessible across Belize. As a result, the “Brukdown” (50% dark milk chocolate with almonds, nibs and other nuts) was born and soon after, the “Belizean” 72% dark chocolate bar. Today we boast a range of 6 Mahogany Chocolate bars that range from white chocolate to 80% extra dark.
The plan, strategically on par with objectives, proved arduous (product development, packaging and design not to mention sourcing) and time-consuming. Once available we were bound with distribution bottlenecks, let alone the inclement weather conditions that affect production. Bottlenecks resolved, efforts to increase awareness to local consumers is now the focus.
Price, Product, Placement, Promotion… It is widely known that the existence of an excellent product that is priced right but unable to reach consumers, is as good as not having the product in the first place. We made the right product and priced it right!
However, with temperatures averaging 79oF per year and chocolate requiring constant storage and transportation at 65 – 68 oF, distributing chocolate to consumers becomes even more physically inconceivable and less economically viable for retailers, distributors and consumers. Chocolates available in stores across the country are either filled with preservatives or contain less than 30% cacao allowing it to be more distributable.
There was no consideration for compromise in quality such as this by altering ingredients or price at Mahogany Chocolate. Zealous we are in our quest to bring only the best high-quality chocolate in stores, countrywide.
The next phase required a collaborative effort between our factory’s production capacity, Vega’s Distributors Ltd, and the retailers.
There are not more than 10 distributors of products in the country. Two of the distributors have refrigerated vehicles. Of the 2, Vega’s Distributors earnestly supports local made products and were impressed with the quality of our chocolate. They have agreed to be our distributing partner, against the backdrop that they are the exclusive importer and distributor of Ferrero Rocher chocolate.
This new relationship began with two training sessions that included chocolate taste testing, product handling and care, and overall industry awareness and education. Product care and handling during distribution and delivery is paramount to the success of our collaborative effort.
Vega’s has sales personnel posted in every district, serves over 600 retail stores, an existing delivery system, storage, and refrigerated delivery truck – albeit only one in their entire fleet. With their programmed schedule delivery, one refrigerated truck was sufficient. It meant retailers had to plan and project sales in advance – something they already do with other products.
During negotiations, wholesale prices were adjusted for each product without compromising final “not exceeding” retail price to consumers. This meant a percentage decrease for the distributor against their traditional required percentage and a revision of our percentage while maintaining the requisite margin. The adjustment trickled to significant improvement of the production process to improve efficiency.
Once the negotiations were done and the contract signed, the first purchase order was received. 700 boxes of chocolate – over 10,000 chocolate bars.
Our chocolate team had just received two new grinders, just in time for the new order. Equipment was installed, with challenges that were fixed, production schedule and timeline completed, and production commenced!
3 new “oompa loompas” were added to the team, 4 refiners spinning 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week. Everyone was busy! 3 weeks later the first consignment was ready and picked up by Vega’s.
Cacao beans in, refined, chocolate bars made and packed! It was only the beginning!
Consumers need to be aware of product availability in stores. More so our intended consumers have never tasted our chocolate!
Vega’s and Mahogany Chocolate Ltd decided on a series of chocolate tasting events to select stores countrywide. This involved providing free chocolate samples to consumers. The chocolate team was on the road with endless chocolate samples, comforted and gratified by the response of the consumers .
The facial expressions as adults and kids alike indulged in Belize’s newest chocolate treat for the first time was a joy to behold. This time chocolate was brought to them!
Consumers immediately entered the store to purchase their own stash to take home. It was working! The chocolate was finally within their reach. Today Vega’s has added another 40 stores bringing the total stores carrying our chocolate products to 100 and growing.
But all is not done! There are more consumers to sensitize. More stores to penetrate. We remain focused to bring our authentic chocolates – “the world’s most seductive sweet ” to the locals, the Caribbean, and the World.