Hello and good day!
Over the years we've been asked many times why we don't buy our own land and grow our own cacao. We've also been asked why we don't buy machines and manufacture our own chocolate.
These are good questions, and I will let the quirky picture above act as a guide to the answer.
In the photo above, my brother Brian is on the farm of our longtime friend and business partner Noe Vasquez. One day, Noe invited Brian over. The purpose of the visit was to see the world's biggest cucumber.
Just for fun, if a friend told you to come by their house to see the world's biggest cucumber, how big would you imagine it to be? Brian certainly didn't think he was coming over to see a 35-pound cucumber.
But there you have it.
Brian ended up taking the gigantic cucumber on a 13-hour bus ride back to his home in Cajamarca Peru, where he brined it to make pickles. He filled up his whole refrigerator with pickle jars and was forced to eat pickles for a long time to come.
What does this have to do with us not buying land to grow cacao for ourselves?
Farmers out in the district of Huarango in northern Peru are great at farming. We buy from 500 small hold multi-generational family farms.These folks know their land and they know what they are doing. Techniques and lifestyle have been passed down from generation to generation.
Our cacao farm partners are constantly experimenting and growing new things just for fun. It is in their blood.
On one trip, I brought down a bag of dates.I gave a bunch to farmer friends to try, and in short order, they had planted the pits and had baby date trees. Because the climate isn't right, the date plants didn't give fruit.
But our friends felt they had to give it a shot, which is something that would never occur to my brother and I, because we weren't raised as farmers.
The gap out there in campo was not skill in farming. The gap was in post-harvest processing.
The only way for our wonderful cacao farm partners to get a high price for their cacao was to do fermenting and drying correctly. But they had no experience in that. So that is where we saw we could step in and add value.
And that is what we continue to do to this day.
We buy cacao off the trees and take ownership of it on the farms.We ferment and dry the cacao ourselves and continue to own the cacao until it finally shows up in chocolate form on our customer's doorsteps or until they take it off a shelf in one of our shops.
As an aside, the ownership laws out in campo are pretty interesting.The land throughout the canyon where we operate is actually owned by what is called a campesino community.This is a government established co-op of sorts with a democratically elected board of directors. Campesino roughly translates to "country folk".
The Peruvian government carried out land reform in the 1960s and gave a whole bunch of unused land that was owned by a few dozen aristocratic families back to the people.The mechanism for the redistribution were the campesino communities. The land was taken from the rich families and given to the campesino communities who then sold land grants.
However, the land grants are not full ownership to the land.
In theory, the land stays with the people.The original homesteaders purchased indefinitely renewable 99 year leases. The leases can be bought and sold like titles.
But they do not constitute full ownership and there are certain bylaws which are rarely exercised that allow the campesino community to kick a person off the land. Only a Peruvian citizen can purchase one of these leases.
Many years back, my brother Brian became a dual Peruvian-American citizen. Legally, we could start buying leases and piece together a big plantation over time.
It would be a waste of time and energy though, because we'll never be as good at farming as our wonderful partners.
As to manufacturing chocolate, pretty much the same reasoning applies.
Post harvest processing is already a lot of work, done in a remote location, and it took us a long time to build up the infrastructure out in campo to do it well.
To also learn how to manufacture chocolate was going to be a bridge too far. The company we work with, Max Felchlin AG in Schwyz, Switzerland has been around for 115 years. They know everything there is to know about making chocolate.
We could never be as good as them or know as much as them.
Likewise, if they wanted to start fermenting and drying cacao, it would be hard for them to ever get as good as us while continuing to make excellent chocolate.
Thankfully, Felchlin was willing to make an exception for us.
When we first got into the business, Max Felchlin AG did not make chocolate on a contract basis for any company in the United States. They had an exclusive distributor and the distributor opposed there being any other Felchlin made products in the market.
Our entire economic model was based on us not selling cacao to a manufacturer.We needed to sell chocolate to get enough money to pay cacao farmers high prices.
The CEO of the company had to make the call and he decided in our favor. Max Felchlin AG has been manufacturing our chocolate for more than 13 years and hopefully they will forever. They are great at what they do.
As to the products we make in our kitchen, we felt we could do that because there is a gap in high quality affordable products.
We've tasted a lot of our competitor's products and we find that what is affordable is too sugary and doesn't taste good enough and what is good is super expensive. There is a gap for us to fill and so it makes sense to learn the skills.
So there you have it.
It makes a lot of sense to let people do what they do best. This applies in business. I also think it applies in family and friendships as well.
If you have a friend who is a great party planner, just let them plan the party. They'll do a better job than you can ever hope to. And then you can jump in where you have the advantage.
Thank you so much for your time today.
I hope that you have a truly blessed day!