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  • October 14, 2020 4:40 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Lauren AdlerBy Lauren Adler, FCIA Board Vice-President, @ChiefChocophile

    A lot has changed since we gathered in San Francisco for Elevate Chocolate in March. It was the last in-person gathering I attended, as I’m sure it was for many of you. San Francisco went into lockdown a few days later, and my hometown, Seattle, quickly followed suit.

    I had no idea at the time that it would be at least a year, possibly longer, before I would see my chocolate friends and colleagues in person again. But thanks to the FCIA’s new webinar series, I haven’t lost touch with you. In fact, the webinars have opened a broader portal into the world of chocolate. From the safety of my desk I’ve visited Ecuador and Peru, I’ve heard the story of Hershey’s acquisitions of Scharffen Berger and Dagoba, I’ve toured the post-harvest processing facility of a cacao company in the DR and I’ve listened to chocolatiers in Ghana talk about doing business in the US and Africa.

    The webinars untethered us. They created an opportunity for us to engage with a broader group of colleagues around the globe. The webinars are a reminder that we need to hear from the diverse voices that make up the fine chocolate industry. We need to make it a priority to be more inclusive in our programming and in our perspective.

    Our virtual membership assembly in August included a panel discussion led by Dr. Kristy Leissle and featuring Andal Balu of CocoaTown and Selassie Atadika of Midunu Chocolate speaking about their experiences as minority-owned businesses. It was an open and honest discussion that illustrated the challenges minorities face in areas that many of us take for granted. A result of their panel is a task force led by Andal to develop concrete actions the FCIA can take to support minority-owned businesses.

    The webinars, the panel discussions, the task force, and our committees are all driven by you, the members. FCIA is a membership organization. We are as good as our membership and those who get involved in helping set the direction of the organization. If you want to contribute to our direction join a committee. Let Bill Guyton, the FCIA Executive Director, know if you would like to join one of our existing committees, which include Education, Supply Chain Value, Membership and Communications or join the task force on minority-owned businesses. I joined the Education Committee years ago before I decided to run for a Board seat.

    Living with uncertainty has become a reality for all of us. Some have been able to pivot their businesses to respond to the changing times, but not everyone has been able to do that. I decided to close Chocolopolis after twelve years, a decision I made before COVID. While it is never easy to close a business, the decision can be freeing, giving you time to re-energize as you figure out how you want to engage with chocolate in new ways. Whatever direction you take, FCIA is here to support your business.

    I wish all of you a prosperous holiday season.


  • October 14, 2020 2:49 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Minority business owners face unique barriers to entry and commercial growth in fine chocolate, and that racial inequities span the entire value chain. As these barriers are increasingly brought to light, the FCIA is committed to taking meaningful action.

    On July 23, we held a discussion with panelists Selassie Atadika of Midunu Chocolates (Accra, Ghana) and Andal Balu of CocoaTown (Alpharetta, GA, USA), who highlighted specific challenges they have encountered as minority business owners in fine chocolate. The panel was moderated by Dr. Kristy Leissle, Cocoapreneurship Institute of Ghana (Accra, Ghana).

    Subsequently, a taskforce was formed to help identify and deliver concrete actions for FCIA in the short and medium term. We had the opportunity to interview each of the members. Please follow the links below to read the interviews.

  • October 14, 2020 2:44 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Andal BaluYou have been in the industry for many years and currently serve on FCIA’s board of directors. Why do you think there is a lack of diversity in the fine chocolate industry and what can be done to remedy this?

    • Affordability – FCIA events always happen in New York or San Francisco. These are expensive cities to find accommodation in addition to the airfare. Lot of minorities are also struggling economically and for a small business and mostly one person operation, cost prohibitive to attend or join FCIA.
    • No clear message from FCIA that minorities are welcome – The chocolate industry by and large in USA and Europe appears to be monocultural. Minorities feel that there is no-one like them and they feel intimidated.
    • Role models in FCIA - Limited minority representation as speakers or as members. Minorities do not see minority leaders and experts represented in FCIA events, webinars, or seminars.

    Actions for FCIA:

    • FCIA should also live stream in-person events on Facebook or any other online platform. Or even creating a simple recording of the events and making it available on FCIA website will help minorities and economically challenged chocolate-makers.
    • Cultural education
    • On the FCIA website, include a message that FCIA wants to be a diversified association and does not discriminate based on race, religion, ethnicity, or economic status.
    • Invite more minorities to participate in the webinars.
    • Ask for suggestions from participants about any meal restrictions.

    Can you share with us the action plan developed by the taskforce?

    • Mentoring program (including access to capital)
    • Increase exposure and visibility of minority owned business (articles, webinars, share the mic)
    • Develop targeted message and outreach
    • Establish country contacts/encourage trade missions
    • Improve cultural sensitivity at trade shows and during networking opportunities

    CocoaTown logoCocoaTown designs, develops, manufactures, distributes/sells and services specialty machines for small-batch craft chocolate businesses. What do you believe had been your key to success in growing your business, and what advice would you give to other minority businesses in terms of scaling their businesses?

    I have been fortunate to grow up different. I always did the things that were not the norm for that time. So when I started the business selling specialty equipment in 1992, I could take the criticism in stride. I was not intimidated by the comments that I will not be successful in the equipment business as a woman. The norm of that period was software business. Also I have a Masters degree in Botany and was working as a Scientist for Indian Council for Agricultural Research (a prestigious job) before moving to the USA after my marriage. I never had formal business training. But due to the support of our employees, customers, vendors, friends, industry peers, mentors, and organizations like SBDC, we have grown to what we are today. I am very grateful for all of them and all the others who have helped us directly or indirectly.

    Here are the things I attribute to my success:

    1. Do not follow all the advice you receive: though I am listing some points below that helped me to succeed, find your own sweet spot. You cannot listen to all the advice and try to follow everything. Follow your heart and passion. Do the right, ethical, legal things. Always discern the advice that fits your specific business.
    2. Family support: My husband gave financial, technical, and moral support to start and grow the business.
    3. Innovation: We believe in innovation and that is the reason our parent company is called Inno Concepts. We innovate new machines and accessories constantly and we have patents for our machines.
    4. Pivot when needed: When the recession hit in 2008, we were able to pivot into making machines for the chocolate industry. Before that we were selling equipment made by other companies that were modified for our requirement based on our customer’s needs.
    5. Be an extrovert: Since we created this niche market, I felt comfortable working with the majority. I did not feel threatened or intimidated. I had hurdles in communication and body language but I learned to be comfortable with myself.
    6. Grow slowly but steadily: Always start small and grow. Do not put the cart before the horse.
    7. ROI: Look for ROI on your investment whether it is time, money, or energy.
    8. Positive attitude: I always see glass as half full than the other way around. Our thoughts are fulfilled by the universe. So it is better to think positive. Don’t worry unnecessarily. We have a saying in our language: "One who plants, waters it." It means we have been created for a purpose and the Almighty will take care of you. There may be hurdles but they too will pass with time.
    9. Be grateful: I thank all those who are helping me and even those who criticize me. We need positive feedback but also sometimes criticism to prove our worth.
    10. Willingness to learn: I am still a student in life. I learn a lot from our customers, and anybody and everybody I interact with. As business owners, we have to be ready to learn whatever it takes to be successful.

    Addendum: Enjoy what you do and money follows you. Start the business to fulfill a need for your customers. Do not start the business just to make money. Improve your communication skills. Do the right thing. Do not hesitate to interact with people who do not look like you. Hard work and learning the new skills, customer service, accounting, and technical details of the product or service all help us to be successful.


  • October 14, 2020 2:40 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Selassie AtodikaCan you tell us about Midunu Chocolates and how you started your business? What you are most proud of?

    Midunu Chocolates are artisanal handcrafted chocolates. Made with Ghanaian cocoa, they feature the flavors and essences of Africa. After over a decade of travel through the various corners of Africa, I distilled the essences of the African continent and now offer them to you in Ghanaian chocolate. They offer people the opportunity join me on that journey, to taste the subtle infusion of the bounty of the African continent – fruits, spices, coffee, teas, and tisanes. These complex flavor profiles embody the beautiful patchwork of Africa’s culinary heritage, a chef-scripted love story to our continent in every bite.

    I started the chocolates as one of the elements of my company. Given the availability of cocoa in Ghana, I felt it was important to add value to local ingredients. I’m proud to be able be share insights into African cultures and cuisines through the medium of chocolate. We have named the truffles after different African women who have inspired the truffles and are culinary custodians throughout the continent.

    Midunu Chocolates logoPlease share with us some of the unique challenges that an African chocolatier faces, based in Ghana.

    Despite the fact that we are one of the world’s largest producers of cocoa, the systems and structure currently available in Ghana are not set up for local production. In fact, the laws make it illegal for me to buy cocoa beans directly from farmers. The colonial structure, with its inherent structural injustices, still means that the legal, economic, and infrastructural framework is set up for exporting raw ingredients. Conversations are underway, but you can imagine the vested interests, financial implications, and internal and international politics that go along with that.

    Other production challenges include difficulties in accessing some of the other ingredients needed to produce chocolates and confectionaries: sugar, dairy, vanilla, and lecithin. All these must be imported, so they increase the production costs.

    In terms of market challenges, as we grow and look for additional markets for our products, shipping, cold chain management, and managing related costs have become areas we are trying to better understand.

    As a relatively new member of FCIA, what have been the services you have found most valuable, and what do you wish could be improved or added?

    Since I’m not always in the United States, I haven’t always been able to attend events, so the webinars this season have been very valuable to me. In terms of services to improve, I would love to see a deeper partnership with fulfillment partners that can help in the delivery of our chocolates to customers, a longer mentorship program with access to capital, and more engagement between chocolate makers and chocolatiers in cocoa producing countries and chocolate consuming countries.


  • October 14, 2020 2:35 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Kofi BoakyePlease share with us your role in KANY Corp and the services your business provides within the cocoa value chain.

    KANY Corporation is a family-owned cocoa supplying company. We have been working with large, mid-tier, and artisanal companies in the global chocolate and confectionery industry for over 30 years.

    Our main origin of supply is Ghana for several reasons. Firstly, we are a wholly Ghanaian-owned company. But more importantly, Ghana has the best quality cocoa beans in the world. So we take pride in knowing that we supply our customers with the best quality ingredients for their end products. In addition to supplying conventional cocoa beans and products, we have partnered with the largest organic cooperative in Ghana to supply both organic beans and products. We see the organic space as a growing niche within the industry, as consumer preferences shift toward more health-conscious alternatives.

    Lastly, we have incorporated a robust social impact program that includes being a sponsor of the West African Health Foundation, an organization founded by Ghanaian physician with a mission to eradicate infectious diseases in the region.

    You have mentioned that fine chocolate companies often overlook West African cocoa, not realizing the good quality and consistency of Ghana cocoa. Can you elaborate on this?

    Yes, we have noticed that many of the artisanal, or bean-to-bar, companies tend to gravitate toward the South American origins as their sourcing choice. While we agree that these regions have exceptional quality and differentiating flavor profiles, we are often surprised that folks tend to stray away from the West African origins, given that we have such a dominating presence in the industry. KANY has made it a focal point to instill that Ghana should not be seen just as a bulk or industrial producer of cocoa, but that the country can and should compete with its South American peers, given we boast extraordinary quality cocoa. Indeed, logistics may be more difficult than sourcing from other origins because a company must purchase through an intermediary vs. directly from farmers (which is a good thing in my opinion), but that should be a complete dealbreaker in terms of choosing Ghana as an origin.

    What advice would you give to FCIA in terms of geographic focus of supply chain programs, membership recruitment, and services?

    I would say not to limit the focus to Latin America as the primary source of premium cocoa, as it is difficult to overlook upwards of 70% of cocoa production in Africa. There are plenty of origins that boast unique and robust flavor profiles that would work well for FCIA members. Separately, FCIA should certainly make an effort to welcome minority-owned small business and new entrants working in the fine chocolate arena into its organization.


  • October 14, 2020 1:27 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Jessica SpauldingWhat or who inspired you to become an entrepreneur? What do you consider Harlem Chocolate Factory’s biggest successes? What impact has COVID19 had on your business this year?

    I think in some way I have always been an entrepreneur. I used to sell painted pinecones and Girl Scout cookies.

    Our biggest successes have been being featured on the Today Show, and every time a customer comes back. I think there was a part of me that was afraid people would only be interested in our chocolates as a novelty, so when people love our products, that’s a success.

    COVID has been a gift and a curse, from a purely business standpoint. We were on track for monumental growth this year and that was cut short. Within one week we had to close our retail shop and all of our corporate events were cancelled. We had to move to an online model when we had never really operated in that manner. Summer has been extremely hard but having our shop closed gave us a second to truly review and reset our business. We were able to basically rebuild our business and have renewed hope in our future.

    Harlem Chocolate Factory logoYou have shared with us how fine chocolate is often associated with European makers. There is a disconnect, however, with all of the those involved in cocoa value chain. How do you think this perception can be changed or balanced?

    I know for myself, my entry to chocolate was attending the Salon du Chocolat’s New York shows every year since I was 10. My experiences at these shows were localized around European companies, and even the non-Euro companies spoke to how they emulated European traditions/flavors. We cannot negate European influence on chocolate but the Euro-centric view of the industry must be widened. It is important that people from multi-ethnic backgrounds bring their voices to the industry. The industry must respond in kind and give space for these voices and do internal reviews to ensure they tell the FULL story of chocolate.

    What advice would you give to minority owned businesses wishing to enter the fine chocolate industry?

    I would encourage them to not give up and to build a thick skin. Unfortunately, ignorance exists, and building a strong network is key to survival. I think it’s important to be present in the rooms where discussions are happening and not to feel discouraged. Your viewpoint is just as valid as anyone else’s and you owe it to yourself to let your voice be heard.


  • October 14, 2020 8:02 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    An interview with Carolina Aguilar, Cocoa Director, MOCCA project, Latin America, Lutheran World Relief | IMA World Health

    The Maximizing Opportunities in Coffee and Cocoa in the Americas (MOCCA) project is a five-year initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and implemented by a consortium led by TechnoServe, Lutheran World Relief leads cocoa activities in the six prioritized countries (Honduras, EL Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Peru and Ecuador). MOCCA is strengthening farmers’ capacity to use best agricultural practices, increasing access to the resources needed to implement and maintain their improvements, and integrating them into markets that reward their efforts with higher returns.

    How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your abilities to implement MOCCA programs in six Latin American countries?

    MOCCA faced delays in implementation, and this was expected, considering that we prioritized the safety and security of our staff, and the farmers and the communities that we work with. We had to adjust our plans to maintain engagement with the cocoa farmers by using information and communication technologies, especially smartphones and SMS messaging. LWR already uses a mobile application, Cacao Movil, that provides content and methodology to learn and train others.

    Despite this challenging environment, what have been the top major achievements within the first two years of the program?

    • Partnering with the private sector: Several companies are co-investing with MOCCA in the cocoa communities, especially on training and access to quality genetic materials
    • Creating a research network around cadmium and sharing scientific results to farmers
    • Linking buyers and cocoa farmers in more direct trade relations
    • Launching a cocoa diploma targeting a new generation of trainers for the six MOCCA countries
    • Supporting the development of international standards for cocoa quality assessment

    Can you explain the flavor map developed by LWR and how it is benefiting farmers and the private sector?

    The Cocoa Flavor Map was created about four years ago and included three Central American countries: Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. The objective of this tool is to help cocoa producers to better connect with buyers of fine-specialty cocoa, who can easily identify the sources for the cocoa flavor, profiles and special characteristics they are looking for.

    MOCCA is helping to expand this work to include Guatemala, Peru, and Ecuador, where we are screening the current quality available at the farms and cooperatives, experimenting the application of modified post-harvest protocols for optimal flavor expression to develop the new cocoa profiles that will be included on the map.


    What is the role of FCIA and its member companies in MOCCA?

    The FCIA has a fundamental role in MOCCA as the link between the farmers and markets. Several FCIA companies are also investing with MOCCA to support farmers with trainings on renovating and rehabilitating their cocoa farms to increase yields and improve practices, but they are also incentivizing quality with higher prices.

    How has MOCCA helped in the development and implementation of cocoa quality and flavor standards?

    MOCCA is supporting the Working Group on quality standards, helping in the translation to Spanish of the protocols that have been developed so far, and making them available in the six MOCCA countries with trainings and demonstrations in partnership with Bioversity International and the FCIA members that also participate in the Working Group. MOCCA will work with the FCIA and other allies to develop local capacity in assessing cocoa quality.

  • September 29, 2020 4:53 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    As a part of our Empowering Chocoprenuers Series please join us Saturday October 3, 10 am – 12 Noon Atlanta UStime for a webinar on fermentation with Scott Johnson.

    The Fermentation 101 webinar will provide an overview of cocoa fermentation, touching on the science behind it, multiple types of fermentation, important variables to control (and why), and how to easily measure  fermentation progress  in the field. At the conclusion of the session, you will have an understanding of why it’s important to ferment, how you can employ different techniques to create multiple products from your existing bean source, techniques that can be used to improve your quality, and how to speak to your customers to help them understand the value this brings.

    Scott Johnson and CocoaTown are bringing this free webinar as a part of our commitment to empowering cocoa farmers to climb the economic ladder.

    Feel free to share this information with your contacts, cocoa farmers in your area and anyone who can benefit. 

    Here is the link to register for the webinar. 

    https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdjmThw2VWR2WJe-N_QNaXi6JseoLWJg289L_bMDCJA_QF4uQ/viewform

    Sign up for CocoaTown's email list, read our blogs at www.cocoatown.com and follow us on FacebookInstagram and YouTube for information about future "Empowering Chocoprenuers Webinar" Series


  • September 21, 2020 11:21 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Though deforestation performed to create space for cacao farming continues to have a significant negative impact on climate change, there are possible ways that cacao farming can affect the climate in a positive way. 

    "According to a new study, growing cacao beans under the canopies of various trees left intact at plantations not only boosts yields. It can also increase trees’ capacity for carbon storage and sequestration, which can help us in our fight against climate change."

    Read more: "Shade-growing cacao can help mitigate climate change," Sustainability Times.

  • September 16, 2020 6:04 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Join CocoaTown for a guided tour of the bean to bar chocolate making process with Chef Erika Cline on Monday Sept 21st 10 am - 12 Noon Atlanta Time.  This webinar is perfect for those who want to start a bean to bar business, who are just starting out or chocoholics who just want to know how chocolate is made from cocoa beans.

    To learn more and register for this free event visit Changing Your Life Story Through Chocolate


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