FCIA is pleased to welcome Ecuakao as one of our newest members. Ecuakao is a company dedicated to sourcing, processing, and distributing cocoa beans and cocoa products.
Q: Could you please tell us about your business in terms of size, specialization, and services?
Ecuakao is a cocoa bean and cocoa semi-finished processing company founded in March 2018 in Guayaquil, Ecuador. We purchase cocoa from small and large farmers, as well as from our network of suppliers throughout the country. We process cocoa beans into cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, and cocoa powder at our factory in Guayaquil, then export our beans, liquor, butter, and powder to clients around the world. We’re currently exporting approximately 25,000 metric tons per year on a bean-equivalent basis. We’re also active in implementing sustainability programs on the ground, and around 60% of our exports in 2020 have been UTZ certified.
Q: What were some of the main reasons you decided to join FCIA? What do you hope the membership can bring to Ecuakao?
As an Ecuadorian company, we are interested in being part of important dialogue related to cocoa in Ecuador and learn from the esteemed members of the FCIA. We are also dedicated to the well-being of the Ecuador producers and look forward to working with fellow members to find the very best markets for their cocoa.
Q. What do you see as the growth potential for the specialty cocoa market over the next five years? How is it different from commodity cocoa?
Specialty cocoa in Ecuador has a rich history that many farmers are proud of, and they are a result of hard work preserving their traditional cocoa trees. However, producing specialty cocoa faces numerous challenges related to flavor issues due to mixing with commodity-grade cocoas, agrochemical contamination, and excessive heavy metal content. Most importantly, specialty cocoas are under threat due to the relatively low productivity found on traditional farms than farms with highly productive clonal varieties. Direct contact and direct working relationships with specialty cocoa producers are essential to the long-term sustainability of these varieties.
Q. Could you tell us about some of your farmer training and support programs in Ecuador? Has COVID-19 impacted your abilities to implement these programs?
Ecuakao carries out extensive farmer training programs in collaboration with our customers. UTZ remains the certification that most of our customers support, so our farmer training work is based on that standard. We are now preparing to shift from the UTZ program to the Rainforest Alliance program as the merger is now complete, and the transition will be implemented this upcoming year. Regarding the impact that COVID-19 had on our programs, it was certainly challenging in terms of group farmer training, mobility throughout the country, gathering of support documentation, and scheduling/execution of training and audits. We were fortunate in that the most severe lock-downs in Ecuador occurred in the main cities of Guayaquil and Quito. We managed to maintain our programs throughout the year.
Q. There are concerns from some of our members that high yielding cultivars such as CCN51 are displacing Arriba flavor cocoa. How has Ecuakao positioned your business to supply cocoa with specific flavor attributes to interested buyers?
Ecuakao sources cocoa from small farmers, large farmers, and from our network of suppliers throughout all cocoa growing regions in Ecuador. It is certainly true that the ability to source Arriba flavor cocoa is increasingly challenging as CCN51 grows and spreads throughout the country. However, Ecuakao does feel that with a careful selection of beans and thorough sensory control, flavor cocoas can be sourced consistently, both now and for many years to come. Ecuakao sells cocoa beans and cocoa liquors to customers, both large and small, throughout the world. Each of these customers has a specific flavor profile that must be matched every time we ship. To support this process, Ecuakao has a highly trained sensory staff and rigorous sensory control procedures. Our sensory staff maintains control samples in our sensory lab, and we offer pre-shipment sample approval conditions to our customers.
Q. What trends do you see in fine chocolate in the next couple of years?
As cocoa and chocolate lovers, we have a deep passion for fine chocolates related to the incredible flavors and the stories behind the chocolate. We believe that providing chocolate consumers with a connection to producers at origin will be a significant trend of the future. We hope that our membership in the FCIA will help to facilitate some of these connections.