Hello and good day!
I'll never tire of stating this fact.
Any project or undertaking that turns out good and worthwhile and that will end up being something you are proud of, will take three to five years to incubate, at a minimum.
The photo above is of my dad, my brother-in-law Miguel, and my brother Brian.
It is from their very first trip to the district of Huarango in northern Peru, where we've been buying and processing cacao for going on 15 years now.
They are standing on a platform barge on the Chinchipe River.
Back before there was a bridge across the river, the two ways across were on a platform barge that floated across propelled by the river's current or in one of those canoes with outboard motors in the background.
Miguel went along on that trip to translate for my dad.
As an aside, Miguel just came to the United States for the first time ever about a month ago, but I digress.
It took a solid 5 years from the time this photo was taken for us to build a well-established and sustainable wholesale chocolate and cacao business.
This is a big part of the reason why I set a goal for myself to write a daily email every day for 1,000 days straight.
I figured that to become a really good writer I'd need to practice daily for around three years.
And also, I wanted to document the full cycle of what it takes to build a chocolate manufacturing company from nothing into something.
It feels like much longer because we work hard at it every day, but we've been making most of our retail products for less than two years.
We opened our first retail location, which is now our kitchen, in November 2021.
Our wonderful chocolatier Javier Valencia began experimenting with products on a very, very small scale around that time.
We didn't put any of our new products online until early Spring of 2022.
I can see very clearly that it will be another 3 years until we know for certain what this whole thing is going to turn into.
It won't be until our 18th cacao harvest that we'll have our new direction fully worked out.
What got me ruminating on this whole thing is that we are dealing with a bunch of hard challenges just now that will require extreme persistence.
As far as I know, there aren't any other fully integrated chocolate product manufacturing companies that buy cacao wet off of trees, do post-harvest processing themselves, own cacao through the entire supply chain, manufacture their own products, and distribute directly to customers without working through any distributers or retailers.
Up until now, we've been making every single product by hand.Our kitchen staff works very, very hard day in and day out hand crafting our delicious products.
However, to build a real factory will require using machinery.
As such, we have purchased our first round of machines, and they are now beginning to arrive.
We have no idea how to install or use them. Industrial grade machinery is not intuitive to use.
You can't just plug it in and turn it on. The instructions are highly technical and complex.
Don't bet against us though. We'll get it all up and running.
Also, our current space is incredibly small.
Had we known two years ago that we'd end up needing to build a factory, we would have rented something bigger.
It is going to take some real creativity to fit all these new machines in our current space. The lease is up in a year at which point we'll move into a bigger place.
As always, we are navigating dicey logistics issues.
We've been trying for a couple of years now to make a sugar free chocolate bar that tastes good. We've finally developed a good recipe using monk fruit.
But to put that bar into full production as a consistent long-term offering means that we have to bring a container of cacao to the United States.
Our manufacturing partner in Switzerland doesn't make any sugar free chocolates. We have to make it ourselves.
Bringing a container of cacao to the United States is a whole different ball of wax from sending chocolate to Europe.
Here is something interesting.
When you send cacao from Lima, Peru to the port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, the cacao stays on the same boat the entire time.
The boat goes through the Panama Canal and across the Atlantic without any additional loading or unloading.
But when you send cacao from Lima to the port of Oakland, which is a straight shot northwest up the pacific coast, the boat stops in the Panama Canal and unloads its cargo.
Then the cargo has to be reloaded onto another boat that is already heading due west through the canal while the original boat continues on east bound.
That's peculiar, isn't it?
Boats do not go up and down the pacific coast between north and south America. Everything runs east and west through the Panama Canal before heading north and south.
From Oakland, we have to ship our raw cacao to Utah to a small chocolate company called Amano Chocolate. Amano will make nibs for us, and they will also make an ingredient called untempered cacao mass.
This is cacao that goes through the entire chocolate making process, except that no sweetener is added, and the chocolate is not tempered and molded into bars.
From Utah, the cacao will come to our kitchen in Issaquah, where we'll mix the untempered cacao mass with monk fruit, temper, mold, and package the bars.
Meanwhile, a shipment of chocolate that we have coming from Switzerland, and that we need to get through the holiday season, was held up in France.
Decreased demand for ocean shipping is forcing boats to stop in ports and attempt to consolidate loads so that boats don't cross oceans halfway full.
This was the first time in our company's history that we've had a container of chocolate end up in France. And now for the first time ever, we have a shipment sitting in Germany while that same boat continues attempting to consolidate its load.
We appear to still be on track to not run out of chocolate, but we are cutting it closer and closer with every passing day.
A big part of the reason why this is all so complex is that we are a self-funded small family business.
If we were to raise capital from outside investors, we could have built a factory right out of the gate.
We could already have a dozen retail outlets.
Everything could be sped up dramatically.
But we've decided not to go that route.
We're not interested in chasing imposed growth goals, and we don't want to be answerable to anybody other than our cacao farm partners and our customers.
We're free to create.
We're free to give away all the free hot chocolate we want in our stores.
I promise you that investors wouldn't want me to write a daily email divulging so much inside baseball.
Freedom comes with a price though.
And that price is paid over the course of three to five years, facing new and hard challenges all the time.
Thankfully, we know going in what any new initiative will require.
We face it soberly and we are ready to stick it out until we achieve our goals because we know that achieving our goals will make the world a better place.
Thank you so much for your time today.
I hope that you have a truly blessed day!
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