Hello and good day!
If you've been following our company for a while, you'll already be familiar with this timeline. But in order to say what I want to say, I feel that I must rehash it.
In 2008, we made the decision to launch a cacao and chocolate business. This is when my brother Brian moved out to the northern Peruvian jungle full time to learn about buying and processing cacao.
In 2009, we learned that the natively growing cacao in the area was a thought to be extinct variety of cacao that was believed to have been completely wiped out by disease 100 years earlier.
It was a delicious and prized variety called Nacional cacao, and it was previously used to make some of the world's best chocolates.
In 2010, we decided to have our chocolate manufactured by Max Felchlin AG in Switzerland and we decided to focus on high end restaurants and chocolatiers in Europe and Asia as our primary clientele.
Over the next 10 years, we became very good at processing cacao and managing logistics and producing a world class chocolate.
During that time, we partnered with 500 small cacao farm families who grow the native variety of cacao on their farms.
We dedicated ourselves to being a part off the community. We became the largest employer in town. Brian is the Godfather to several cacao farm children.
By cutting out players in the supply chain, we've been able to pay huge premiums over world market prices to our wonderful cacao farm partners. On average, we voluntarily pay around ten times FairTrade premiums for cacao.
From 2010 - 2020 we established customer accounts in more than 30 countries.
In 2020, when COVID hit, almost our entire customer base was shut down and we were on the brink of going under. As a last-ditch effort to save the company, we launched www.fortunatochocolate.com and started selling online.
It was the first time we ever sold chocolate directly to the public.
For a long time, we had no idea who was enjoying our chocolate and most folks didn't know it was our chocolate they were enjoying. They just knew that they were eating something really good. And as long as the purchase orders kept coming in, we survived to process another harvest.
In November 2021, we opened our first retail shop with no idea how it would play out. Our family friend Javier Valencia agreed to come on board as our chocolatier and he turned out to be unexpectedly prolific at creating delicious products.
We began to manufacture products for the first time in our company's history and we were able to put the new products online. Making and selling products went so well that we had to build a kitchen in our first retail location and that meant we needed a second retail location that wasn't filled with ingredients and equipment.
We opened the second location in July 2022, a little over a year ago. Prior to 2020, I was the company's accountant, logistics manager, and I did a lot of selling.
Our customers didn't know me well. Once I signed up a new customer, I usually handed them over to my dad for account management. They got emails from me with invoices attached after they placed an order. The logistics folks knew me well because I was lining up shipments all the time.
My role was primarily a behind the scenes office management kind of role. When we launched the ecommerce site in 2020, I took a marketing course that recommended I write a daily email to our customer base. I'd never written a darn thing prior to that, but we were in dire straits, and I wasn't in a position to be timid.
Unlike our online business, our retail shops are almost entirely dependent on local support. Knowing that, I decided to walk around and hand out flyers in the neighborhood.
I also decided to promote our shops by pacing the shopping centers where our shops are located, with a sign offering free hot chocolate if people would just come in and check us out.
Now here is where something completely unforeseen began to happen.
Being out in the community talking to my neighbors, getting to know people, hearing their stories, putting a smile on their faces with Javier's wonderful creations, talking about my brother Brian's time in the Peruvian jungle, it all turned out to be extremely fulfilling.
A large part of my daily writing is now dedicated to transmitting experiences that I have with people in my neighborhood and trying to extract lessons from those interactions.
I'd venture that since November 2021, very few people in the world have had more impromptu, one on one conversations with strangers and neighbors than I have. I didn't plan on it being that way. But that's how it is.
I've talked to homeless people.
I've talked to drug addicts.
I've talked to big old muscle men.
I've talked to gang bangers.
I've talked to goth kids with piercings all over their face.
I've talked to old people and little kids.
I've talked to parents.
I've talked to bachelors.
I've talked to party girls.
I've talked to atheists and fundamentalists.
I've talked to teachers and high school dropouts.
I've talked to people with every skin tone and accent you can imagine.
You know that song by Johnny Cash that goes '' I've been everywhere man, I've been everywhere?''
I could write a song that goes, ''I've talked to everyone man, I've talked to everyone.''
And I'm going to keep talking to them, probably for the rest of my life.
Because I've come to realize a few things.
I love people.
People are great.
Almost everybody is good.
There is evil, but it's a very, very small percentage of the world.
The problem with evil is that it tends to have a disproportionate impact.
But in day-to-day life, almost everybody has a good heart and is doing the best they know how to live a good life.
In talking to people, I've come to learn that just about everybody is either suffering through something hard or has a loved one suffering through something hard.
The middle-aged man walking slowly down the grocery store aisle is going through chemo for lymphoma. He's beating it, but his family is scared, and the treatment is taking its toll. He doesn't complain or look particularly sick, so you probably wouldn't know. But he moves slow, and you might get impatient if he is in front of you in line.
The older woman taking money out of the ATM just lost her husband of 62 years. They were high school sweethearts who married young. They were best friends who laughed and traveled together. They had four kids and eleven grandchildren. He left her a pension and she is doing fine financially. She sees her kids often, but not every day.
When she is out and about, she's able to distract herself and put on a brave face. But when she goes back home, she drinks wine by herself, and falls asleep in the king-sized bed she shared with her husband for all those years.
The man in the knee brace, with the brown shadows under his tired eyes, the one buying camping supplies, lost his seven-year-old son to kidney failure ten months ago.
The tan homeless man wearing a black t-shirt with the sleeves cut off, and a weather worn black cowboy hat, had dreams of starting a business when he was a boy. He leans up against the grocery store wall and takes a draw on his cigarette. The tip lights up orange and the paper crackles backwards.
The grey ash on the end grows longer. With the smoke still in his mouth, he gulps down fresh oxygen to push the smoke into his lungs. He holds it and then exhales. Then he looks at me and tells me that his dad left, and his mom used to beat him up. He left the house young and has been on the street ever since.
I know that this is running long. I'm sorry.
Here is the point.
We're all in this thing together.
We can lift each other up.
There is no cure for a broken heart.
Technology doesn't solve it and neither does time.
But there are balms.
They are kindness, grace, patience, and forgiveness.
The widow has to go home alone no matter what.
But a smile and a sympathetic ear will ease her pain for a moment and heal the wound ever so slightly.
So will a good hot chocolate, a cone of soft serve, or a sea salt caramel turtle.
If there is a bench in the corner of a nice clean chocolate shop where she can enjoy her chocolate treat, and if Peruvian folk music is playing on the speaker, that helps too.
A chocolate shop is part of a community.
And a good strong, loving, community is what can really help carry people through hard times.
After 15 years in business, this is now a big part of our purpose.
We want to do our part to be a good community member.
Anyhow, I apologize for going so long and if I've rambled a bit.
I've had some very moving and impactful experiences over the last few days with people around town.
Thank you so much for your time today.
I hope that you have a truly blessed day!
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