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Mucilage & Courage

Mucilage & Courage



Hello and good day!

Take a look at the photo 

At the end of every workday our cacao processing team fills up bottles with cacao mucilage to take home. Cacao is covered in a sugary white gel inside its pod and when you put cacao in wooden boxes to ferment, the gel liquifies and runs down the side of the boxes.We put metal pots underneath the fermentation boxes to collect run off.

This serves two purposes.

First, it keeps the mucilage from dripping on the floor and eating up the concrete.

Second, it makes it easy for our team members to take it back to their families.

Cacao mucilage is really only good to drink for a day or two after harvest. After that, it begins to ferment and becomes less palatable. But while it is fresh, it is one of the most naturally delicious and nutrient rich drinks you will ever taste. We always have a ton of it gathered up at the end of every day.

When I ran our processing facility for a while, I loved the time of day when the group would gather around the pots of mucilage. It would normally be late at night, ten or later.

The cacao buying team comes out of the canyon around six. You can hear the trucks and motorcycles rumbling down the hill when they are on their way. There is a several hour sprint of work putting the day's harvest into fermenter boxes.

All of the cacao that we use in our chocolate goes into fermentation boxes the same day it is harvested. From six to ten is a frenzied part of the day.There are two or three dozen young men running around. They have to yell at each other to coordinate the work.

There is always music blaring on the radio. There is the sound of wet cacao sloshing around. Once everything is in the boxes, there is a major cleaning effort with hosing and scrubbing and putting away.

After all the craziness, the team can finally be calm and content. The day is over. The hard, hot, physical work is done. They can fill up their bottles and walk home to their families, through the dark and quiet town. It is a time for joking and congratulating and planning for the next day.

It was during one of these bottling sessions that I found the courage I needed to make a big business decision. It's funny how fear of offending somebody can keep a person from doing the right thing for a long time.

For a couple of years when we first came to market with our products, it was tough sledding. The key problem we faced was our ridiculously high price point.

Everybody who tasted our chocolate loved it. They loved the story of the thought to be extinct cacao that my dad and brother helped rediscover.  They appreciated the good that we were doing in the community. But they couldn't handle that our chocolate was 40% more expensive than the next highest priced chocolate.

It's crazy to think about now. We were 40% higher than our most expensive competitor. I received so many emails from restaurant group purchasers telling me how much the chefs loved the chocolate, but they had to take a pass.

They had a business to run after all.

Our pricing decision was made based on the advice of two industry professionals who helped us get into business in the first place.

Things are rarely black and white.

On the one hand, we owe our existence as a business in large part to these two fellows. On the other hand, their advice is what almost put us out of business. Their take was that we had the Maybach of chocolate and that the high price would be a feature, not a hurdle.

Long story short, they were completely wrong. We weren't selling enough chocolate to fund the harvest. Our cost of manufacturing didn't require such a high price point. We could make money at price points more in line with the market.

But every time we brought up lower prices, these men shot down the idea. They told us that once you come down from the top of the market, you can never go back up. We just needed to be patient.

Easy to say when it isn't your life savings funding the project.

However, we considered ourselves to be such novices in the industry that we didn't have the confidence to go against our advisors. But one night I was watching the team get ready to leave the facility. I thought about all the farms they had visited that day. I watched the comradery that had developed. Nobody knew just how precarious our financial situation was.

We had a warehouse full of chocolate that wasn't selling fast enough, and we were going to run out of money. I remember thinking, "this can't die".

It just couldn't. Too many people depended on us. Whatever we needed to do, we had to do it right away.

And we did.

We lowered our prices and saved the company, at least for a while. It was so satisfying to go back out to the companies who had rejected us, tell them about our new pricing, and see the purchase orders come rushing in.

We've had to navigate several extinction level market shifts over the years. They all required courageous decision making. That early decision about pricing set the mold for future action and taught us how to be brave.

And I learned a lesson that has stuck with me since then. Exposing yourself to certain sensory and emotional inputs increases bravery and discipline. Seeing our team members at the end of the day gave me tremendous fortitude.

I didn't care about offending our advisors. I didn't care about looking stupid. I only cared about doing the right thing for the people who depended on us. And I couldn't have generated that strength unless I was there in person. In person contact with a person or cause that you are advocating for makes a huge difference.

I've also noticed that if I need discipline in my personal life, it helps to expose myself to beautiful things.

It's not easy for me to gorge on the wrong food, or be short with my kids, or worry excessively about business if I've just spent 30 minutes staring at a beautiful sunset reflecting pink and orange on a dark lake at twilight.

To do so makes me feel that I am making a mockery of the beauty that I just witnessed. And I'd hate to do that. The beauty was too good to be ruined.

Likewise, the scene in the facility was too good and satisfying to allow fear to get in the way of its continued existence.

Thank you so much for your time today.

I hope that you have a truly blessed day!