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  • October 04, 2018 9:48 AM | Anonymous

    An Interview with Catholic Relief Services Nicaragua’s Jorge Brenes Abdalah

    1. Could you share with us a brief description of your project and its achievements to date with cocoa farmers in Nicaragua?  

    The Program for Rural Enterprise, Health and Environment – Caribbean Zone (PROGRESA Caribe) is a five-year (2014 – 2019) value chain strengthening project for the cacao and livestock sectors in the Caribbean Coast Region of Nicaragua. 

    The Food for Progress Program, financed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has a total budget of $10,254,800 and is under implementation by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in consortium with TechnoServe (TNS) and Lutheran World Relief (LWR). CRS and its partners work with small-scale cacao producers in 16 vulnerable municipalities in the Caribbean Region and other departments of the country. 

    PROGRESA Caribe is unique in its dual focus on cacao agroforestry systems and sustainable livestock development, two of the most important economic sectors in the country. This combination creates complementary short-term income generating opportunities, medium- and long-term sustainable livelihood development, and natural resource preservation. 

    PROGRESA Caribe wants to create a long-term impact by developing profitable market linkages and buyer-seller relationships, strengthening producer cooperatives and facilitating investment in value-adding infrastructure for the value chain. Up to now, PROGRESA CARIBE is attending more than 2,500 cacao farmer making investments at every stage of the supply chain: production at the farm level; quality; logistics and handling at the postharvest level in the cooperatives.

     2. You recently signed an MOU with FCIA.  What value do you see in this partnership with the fine chocolate industry?

    For CRS, FCIA represents a partnership that will help us learn and connect cacao buyers in the U.S. to producers in Nicaragua. We recognize the excellent reputation of FCIA and its membership. Also, we understand the need from your members for high quality cacao beans. On the other hand, CRS support thousands of cacao farmers and their families in Latin American who depend on their cacao plantations; we want to make sure that these farmers are able to connect with formal buyers that are interested in building long-term relationships with their suppliers. 

    Nicaragua produces a fine cacao that the world deserves to know about. Last year in London, the winner of the World Final of The International Chocolate Awards was Friis-Holm (Denmark), where the chocolate was made with 100% Nicaraguan beans.  That is why we did not hesitate traveling last June to New York to participate in your Elevate Chocolate Summer 2018 Event and show the attendees the quality of cacao that Nicaragua is producing. 

    We had more than 50 visitors at our table where we exchanged opinions and ideas and provided them samples of fermented cacao beans and chocolate bars made with Nicaraguan cacao. Understanding their criteria and preferences were very important for our learning. We brought samples of conventional, organic and UTZ certified cacao beans to the event.

    3.  Can you give an example of how companies have partnered with your program farmers?

    From the beginning of every project, CRS always try to connect the beneficiaries with private companies to which farmers and cooperatives can build their relationships and facilitate sustainability. Financial institutions and the European buyer “Ritter Sport” have already developed strong relationships with the Nicaraguan farmers. We want to do the same with ECOM, and perhaps others, in the U.S.  

    4. What final message would you like to share with companies interested to engage with your program?

    We want to bring together U.S. cacao buyers and Nicaraguan cacao farmers. For us, there is no small company. In fact, we believe that there is an opportunity for small buyers and small producers to grow together. The project has been very successful in closing the gaps between the needs of the market and the historical capacities of the farmers and their cooperatives. That is why our interest is to provide the U.S. chocolate makers the best possible cacao beans so they can make the best chocolate bar.

    If there is any company interested in meeting the farmers we would be more than happy to accompany the visitors in Nicaragua.

     Watch and Learn More  

  • October 04, 2018 9:44 AM | Anonymous

    Founded in 2003, Ecole Chocolat Professional School of Chocolate Arts offers a portfolio of programs for chocolate making in order for our students to gain a deep understanding of modern techniques, recipes, equipment, efficient production, operations, marketing, quality assurance and the business knowledge – all the skills needed to become a professional chocolatier or chocolate maker. 

    We strongly believe success in the fine chocolate industry is not just about learning how to make a bar or bonbon – that is only the starting point. Founder and Lead Instructor Pam Williams talks about the school’s recent achievements, the FCIA, and the future of fine chocolate.

    This year, Ecole Chocolat celebrated its 15th anniversary. We are very proud to be the first culinary school offering professional chocolate education that included more than simply making a recipe. In those 15 years, we have educated hundreds of students from around the globe, and while not all of them have gone on to start a business, we know that they left our programs as highly educated chocolate consumers with a thorough appreciation of the hard work that goes into each bonbon or bar. We couldn’t have accomplished this without our team of dedicated tutors working in our industry who, in many cases, are training their future competitors, but do so because they believe the industry is stronger with more well educated players.

    We agree with our fellow FCIA members that consumer education is a huge challenge for the fine chocolate industry, and we are proud to have played a role in creating a group of consumers who understand where fine chocolate comes from, as well as the talent and skills that chocolatiers and chocolate makers devote to their craft. And we will continue to be involved with the association in an integral way to help with future education/communication strategies.

    The fine chocolate industry has changed dramatically in the past 5 years, with new chocolatiers and chocolate makers entering the sector all the time. While there is room for everyone to create their own products with their own vision, even in a small community, this has created another big challenge for our segment of the industry. As more chocolate businesses enter the space, there will be increasing competition and we all know that mediocre products just won’t survive. 

    If we are asking consumers to pay more for fine chocolate, the quality of craftsmanship and flavor needs to be there.  In our book Raising the Bar, we called it the “yummy” or “wow” factor. We all need to provide our customers with the “yummy” or “wow” factor each and every time they buy our products. The “story” of who you are and how carefully and mindfully that product is made will get a consumer to buy your product once, the “yummy” or “wow” factor will keep them coming back time and time again. That will build your business and make it successful.

    As one of the original founding members of the FCIA in 2007, we came together to create an industry association knowing that we are a tiny segment of the chocolate industry. Through the efforts of our dedicated Board members and the leadership of Karen Bryant, and now Bill Guyton, the size of our membership has grown way beyond the wildest dreams of the founding 17. The FCIA has become such an important organization for creating a shared vision for our industry from tree to bar to bonbon, fostering collaborations and partnerships and inspiring the future growth of the industry. 

  • October 04, 2018 9:32 AM | Anonymous

    Beyond the Bar: New Frontiers for Chocolate
    Elevate Chocolate Winter 2019
    Registration is open for FCIA Elevate Chocolate Winter 2019

    Saturday, January 12, 2019
    9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
    InterContinental San Francisco Hotel
    888 Howard Street, San Francisco

    Our Education Committee is busy lining up all the insightful experts and value-chain partners you need to help you grow your business. This year’s theme -- Beyond the Bar: New Frontiers for Chocolate -- speaks to how the dramatic growth in our industry presents myriad challenges and opportunities.  All of our panels, workshops, and exhibitors are designed so that you can profitably navigate in this exciting era.

    Based on member and attendee feedback, we’ve developed three workshop tracks for the show: Value Chain Partnerships & Sourcing Quality Ingredients, Product Development & Innovations, and Tastes & Quality Standard.

    As usual, we invite those of you with deep knowledge and experience to respond to our RFP for topics and presenters. If you have compelling information to share, please submit a workshop proposal by October 15.

    We’re especially fortunate to welcome the show’s keynoter Chi Bui, the dynamic head chocolatier of Thomas Keller and Armando Manni’s K+M Extravirgin Chocolate. The overseer of production, bean sourcing, product development, and the company’s ongoing research with the University of Florence hails from New York City’s Romera restaurant. In that capacity she worked its highly praised chocolate program, a groundbreaking single-origin, bean-to-bar effort that was pioneering for a fine-dining restaurant. Earlier in her career, Bui worked in the pastry kitchens of the famed Le Bernardin, Union Square Cafe, Gotham Bar and Grill, and Daniel.

    We’ll kick off the day with our new Membership Assembly, where we’ll bring you up-to-date on the latest FCIA news, explain the new governance process and make sure everyone understands the new membership structure.

    That will be followed by the workshops. And, of course, we’ll continue to present the ever-popular Heirloom Cacao Preservation (HCP) update and tasting, the Gallery Showcase, new Partner Showcase, Chocolate Tasting Table, and the fabulous Not So Silent Auction.

    "A Galaxy of highly regarded craft chocolate makers, chocolatiers, pastry chefs, suppliers and related industries from around the world!"  --  Candy Industry Magazine

    In addition to attending, there are many ways to get involved and benefit from this amazing gathering of the fine chocolate professional network!

    Become an event sponsor

    Exhibit in the gallery showcase

    Participate in our new partnership showcase

    Donate an item for our Not So Silent Auction

    Play a behind-the-scenes role and volunteer

    Check out the agenda and register today!

    And keeping coming back to see speakers and workshops as they are confirmed.

    Questions or need more information? Contact Executive Director Bill Guyton.

  • October 04, 2018 9:20 AM | Anonymous

    Last month, I placed an online order for 70 percent, single origin chocolate from Bolivia.  A couple of weeks later, three carefully wrapped tablets arrived at my home, each costing approximately $10.  This was hardly an impulse purchase and the experience was completely different than buying a chocolate bar from my local convenience store.  After sharing the bars with family members, we discussed the unique flavors and smoothness, and unique attributes of the different chocolates.

    My cousin asked me a reasonable question: Why did these bars cost so more than mass-produced chocolate?

    His query brings to mind this recent The Huffington Post article that well explains the cost dynamics. First of all, smaller batches of beans which have been carefully grown, fermented and dried by cocoa farmers demand a premium price.  Fine chocolate companies also use other quality ingredients without substitutes. Finally, artisan chocolate takes longer to make.

    Now, this pricing makes sense to me (and no doubt to those of you reading this.)  As a consumer, I also like the fact that fine chocolate companies are directly sourcing from farmer groups or know the origins of all their ingredients.  And of course, the quality and flavor makes it well worth the extra cost -- similar to paying for specialty coffee or wine. (Make sure to read Ecole Chocolat Founder Pam Williams’ insights on this topic in this issue’s Member Spotlight.)

    I bring all this up because it speaks to underlying needs that are driving the implementation of our new five-pillar strategy, a key component of which is to help spread the word about our industry through smart education and outreach to consumers, legislators, and NGOs.

    To that end, I’m pleased to announce the formation of two new FCIA Committees.

    In addition to our Education/Events Committee, we have recently added a Communications/Market Research Committee and Cocoa Supply Chains/Partnerships Committee.  These committees are open to qualified members who have the time and expertise to participate in conference calls once every other month. For more information on how to join a committee, please contact me.

  • October 02, 2018 2:26 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Candy Industry Magazine's September 2018 issue features an article by Curtis Vreeland. The article offers insights from FCIA's summer event held this past June 2018 in New York City. The keynote presentation featured guests from the specialty coffee and craft beer industry as they shared their experiences and how these might benefit and help guide the fine chocolate industry.

  • September 26, 2018 5:26 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Plan to visit the Kansas Chocolate Festival on Saturday, September 29, 2018 and check out Nick Xidis' bean-bar presentation; challenge your taste buds at Karen Bryant's Fine Chocolate Challenge to see if you can tell the difference between mass market and fine chocolate; and hear Francisco Moreno talk about how organic chocolate is grown, processed and made along with Bill Copeland's talk on the future of chocolate.

  • September 24, 2018 5:16 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Read about FCIA members and bean to bar chocolate makers - Brian Wallace, Greg D'Alesandre and Emily Stone, featured in this public radio article and radio broadcast.

  • September 24, 2018 4:59 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Check out this article and radio broadcast from KALW public radio in San Francisco. It features FCIA members Guittard, Dandelion and Alice Medrich as it explores of the history of chocolate in the Bay Area.

  • September 08, 2018 7:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    With support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture - Foreign Agricultural Service, the Cacao and Chocolate Research Network (CCRN) at The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) is pleased to announce the 2019-2020 Visiting Scientist Program. The program will support five visiting scientists to work with Penn State faculty and international collaborators to advance research that is critical to the development of the fine flavor cacao/chocolate industry in Latin America and the Caribbean. These visiting scientists will spend six months at Penn State or at a partner institution working on one of the following topic areas: advanced sensory evaluation, the fine flavor cacao market, or issues related to cadmium accumulation in cacao. Exchanges will take place within the January 2019 to May 2020 timeframe, with exact dates to be determined jointly by the visiting scientist and his/her Penn State faculty mentor.

    For more information:


  • September 06, 2018 12:45 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Read about how FCIA board member, Brad Kintzer first became interested in cacao and making chocolate in this New York Times article.

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