Wellington's "Willy Wonka" wants to set sail for Bougainville to ship home new cocoa beans and shake up the chocolate industry

A cocoa bean farmer in Bougainville. Picture by Gabe Davidson
The Wellington Chocolate Factory, which first opened its doors in December last year, is hoping revolutionise the chocolate universe by expanding consumers’ palette to the lesser known taste of the Bougainville cocoa bean to craft its “Bougainville” bar.

Co-founders of The Wellington Chocolate Factory Gabe Davidson and Rochelle Harrison want to travel to a cocoa farm in Bougainville and obtain Criollo beans rarely used for chocolate production to give chocolate lovers a shake up in the flavour they’re used to.

There are three types of cocoa beans used in the production of the chocolate worldwide: the Criollo, the Forastero and a hybrid between the two called the Trinitario.

“Currently 90% of the chocolate in the world are are made from this one bean from West Africa. There’s one generic flavour that we’re used to,” Davidson says. He describes Bougainville chocolate’s taste as “really bright and fruity”.

The Wellington Chocolate Factory already imports cocoa beans from places such as Peru, which Davidson says has flavour notes of apricot and honey and Madagascar, which he says has a berry jam flavour.

Davidson says the majority of US$100 billion chocolate industry worldwide is made from the Forastero bean. The Wellington Chocolate Factory only uses higher quality Criollo (which accounts for only 1% of chocolate made in the world) and Trinitario beans (9%). 

More than one kind of bean

In a TEDx talk held in September in Wellington, Davidson likened the lack of diversity in the industry to imagining if all of the wine in the world was made from one grape.

“This is what it’s like in the chocolate industry at the moment.”

The Wellington Chocolate Factory’s concept is bean-to-bar chocolate, made under one roof, using traditional micro-processing in batches to unlock the best flavours.

Davidson plans to sail by ship to Bougainville, made famous by the award-winning book and movie, Mr Pip, to collect The Wellington Chocolate Factory’s first tonne of Bougainville beans directly from a farm there.

He and his co-founder are hoping the crowd from Kickstarter will help fund the sailing trip to Bougainville.

“We want to introduce a never- before-tasted chocolate flavour to the world,” Davidson says.

Money from the crowd goes to...

The company has raised $12,399 of their $36,000 or more goal and have 23 days left to reach their target.

Those who pledge to be a part of the campaign are being offered several prize tiers, such as joining the sailboat trip and touring the cocoa plantation, hosting a private function at the Wellington Chocolate Factory, chocolate making classes and being sent the new Bougainville bar when it’s created.

The money raised will go towards the transporting of the maiden shipment in a sailboat across the Pacific, as well as rebuilding Bougainville’s cocoa legend James Rutana’s facilities to produce better quality cocoa.

In the future, the company hopes to buy a boat to continue direct shipments from Bougainville to New Zealand, rather than tranship through Papua New Guinea, Davidson says.

There is no direct trade between Bougainville and New Zealand, despite a connection between the two countries from New Zealand helping to broker a peace deal for Bougainville in 1997 that led to the end of the civil war.

“If we can’t get a shipping route to do it, we’ll do it ourselves,” Davidson says.

The chocolate industry is on shaky ground due to cocoa farmers being some of the poorest paid farmers in the world.

According to makechocolatefair.org, cocoa growers receive about 6% of the price consumers in rich countries pay for their chocolate.

Davidson says they’ll be buying fair trade chocolate at a price that gives Bougainville farmers their money’s worth, paying two to three times the amount cocoa farmers in Bougainville are currently getting, which is a standard $3.50 a kilogram, regardless of the quality.

He believes that it could have a huge impact on the country’s population of 200,000.

Worldwide chocolate shortage

Due to diseases killing cocoa plants, poor pay and a lack of education of farmers to keep up with the demand, there is a looming chocolate shortage worldwide.

Confectionery giant Mars predicted a major chocolate shortage by 2020 and began buying certified chocolate in 2011, aiming to reach 100% certified chocolate by 2020.

If the Wellington Chocolate Factory’s venture is successful, Davidson says they will expand their fair trade business model to the South Pacific and combat the cocoa bean shortage, as farmers in countries such as Samoa and Fiji have approached them.

Davidson calls this the “chocolate revolution”, as he says each region’s cocoa beans have their own unique flavour and many people don’t realise it.

The Kickstarter ends on 10 December, 2014 and if all goes to plan, the boat will set sail in 2015.

More information about the voyage can be found here