Hello and good day!
It is that time again for us. We're making preparations to ship a container of cacao out of Peru.
This is always an exciting and dicey experience. On the whole it never gets any easier, nor has it ever come to feel like a routine thing.
We've been in business 15 years.And while the way we sell our end product has changed over the years, the way we buy and process cacao has remained the same.
We buy cacao wet off trees, our team does the fermenting and drying, once enough cacao is accumulated, we ship it from the jungle in northern Peru, due west over the Andes mountains and then due south to Lima.
From Lima the cacao will be loaded on a boat that heads north and then east through the Panama canal due for Rotterdam and then on to Switzerland where the chocolate will be made.
This part of the process has never changed.
Government rules and regulations have changed. Certain types of supply chain issues have come and gone.
For example, over the last several years there have been shortages of shipping containers and workers at the port. This holds things up. The cost of fuel has spiked dramatically.
But these are all fluctuating issues that go up and down and come and go. The fundamentals have remained the same over the years. Now here are some fundamental supply chain issues that we've always had to work through and always will.
The first part of the 2023 cacao harvest was dry and this was a wonderful thing. It is good for the cacao trees and good for our buying team who has to drive out on dirt roads to buy cacao.
The last month though has been terribly wet. Unfortunately, some version of this happens just about every year. Check out the photos below.
This is how the roads look out in campo right now. This is what our team is driving out on to buy cacao. It is a hard slog. Always has been and always will be. This is where chocolate comes from. The cacao must be harvested so there is no other choice but to figure it out.
If there is a medical emergency out on a cacao farm, this is what the families have to navigate to leave the countryside and get onto a main road that will take them to a big city where there is a real hospital.
This is another recent picture from out in campo along one of our cacao buying roads. Heavy rains caused this rockslide. If the team runs into this, there is no choice. They have to turn around and come back another day.
As mentioned above, in the case of a medical emergency, let's say an elderly family member is sick, this is what is in the way of getting medical care. This is a real-world supply chain issue, not caused by the government or inflation or pandemics.
It just is. And it isn't going away. It is part of being in the business of buying and processing cacao and living out in campo.
Artificial intelligence and chatbots won't help. Only a strong back and lots of sweating will make this go away.
After the cacao has left the jungle, it goes on a big truck that drives 17 hours through the Andes and down the coast. When it is raining hard all-over northern Peru, as it has been lately, you see terrible mud slides in the mountains.
This photo is from a couple of years ago.
When you are driving through the Andes, most of the trip is just a squiggly two-lane road, switching back and forth, hugging the side of mountains. That blue truck is our cacao.
All commerce from the northern Peruvian jungle out to the coast runs along this road. In the event of a big mudslide, there is no choice but to get out of your car and wait. In this case, the wait took more than 15 hours.
A seventeen-hour drive turned into 32 hours. Unfortunately, things like this happen all the time when we are exporting cacao. It may not be this extreme in all cases, but some version of this happens on almost every trip through the Andes.
After enduring through the mountains, the cacao will end up at a port in Lima to be loaded into a shipping container. Our process from the very beginning of our business has always been to have either my brother Brian or our operations manager Oscar Ayala on site every time cacao is loaded into a shipping container.
Many times, both go.
In the photo above, the stevedores are working on taking cacao out of the freight truck that came through the mountains, which is on the right. And they are loading the cacao into a shipping container, which is on the left.
The reason we are insistent on being there when this happens is that most shipments don't go straight from the truck into a container. Most shipments are taken out of the truck and left on the port for hours until a shipping container becomes available.
The air is very fishy and very industrial out there. No way do we want our cacao exposed to that. So Oscar or Brian stand near the truck and don't allow it to be opened until the container is ready.
This isn't exactly in accordance with the rules and heavy "tipping" is always required. Well worth it. We know of no other chocolate company that monitors the loading of containers at ports. That means everybody else is letting the cacao be exposed to fish air.
Once the cacao is loaded, it is drug sniffing dog time.
I write about a lot of things in these daily emails. But this work is what underlies everything we do. If the cacao isn't done well. The chocolate won't be good.
And if the chocolate isn't good, we have no reason to exist as a company.
Thankfully, we know how to do this work and we are committed to doing it over and over again, year after year, with the help of our wonderful 500 cacao farm partners and our wonderful team in Peru.
Thank you so much for your time today. I hope that you have a truly blessed day!
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