‘Dunedin chocolate factory supports South Pacific farmers

A Dunedin chocolate factory is looking to expand its operations and put South Pacific cacao beans on the map.

Only one percent of the worlds cacao is grown in the Pacific region, something craft chocolate brand Ocho has taken full advantage of.

It sourced all its beans directly from farmers in Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea and paid fair wages,

Cacao, koko or kokoa as it is commonly known in the islands, has contributed to the Pacific's economic resilience.

The cacao industry in the Pacific has experienced decades of both successes and challenges, including natural disasters, under-investment and more recently, trade route disruption due to Covid-19.

Chocolate makers in New Zealand and Australia are increasingly choosing Samoan, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands for ethical, sustainable and bespoke production of the cacao bean.

Reports by Pacific Trade Invest, showed Cocao continues to be an integral export earner for many Pacific countries, including Vanuatu, where 25 percent of rural households are involved in cocoa production.

Cocao is also one of the Solomon Islands' biggest agricultural export earners, generating around $US15 million per year.

Maori Chocolatier Tipene Ngāpaki said he valued working for a place that is local, sustainable and ethical.

"For us it's important that there is no slavery in our chocolate. It is incredibly important that indigenous people are empowered to determine their own future and get paid a fair amount."

Cacao beans sourced from the Pacific have a unique taste thanks to "beautiful climates and soils in the Pacific," he said.

"I like working with our Vanuatu beans which have a nice fruity quality to them, PNG beans are a lot more robust and the flavour matches their jungle environments."

Ocho planned to take its chocolate to new heights if selected by Air New Zealand to become a new in-flight snack for the international and Koru hour flights.

The underdog company had pitched a 24g bar in the milk, the horopito and kawakawa, and the 70 percent Vanuatu ranges to Air New Zealand and their proposal was in the running alongside Whittakers chocolate.

Historically slavery has played a major role in the illustrious chocolate industry.... it's been "built off the back of slaves," Ngāpaki said.

He encouraged chocolate lovers to understand the journey from bean to bar and choose chocolate free from slavery and child-labour.

"Be a bit more mindful about where your luxury and commodity items come from and be aware of food miles by choosing food that's sourced and made closer to home."

With chocolate you can buy on supermarket shelves, the cacao has been grown in Africa and South America, sent to Europe for processing and then sent back again.

By supporting brands that use cacao beans from the South Pacific - you're choosing to "support local" and "lower your carbon footprint," Ngāpaki said.

Brands supporting Pacific farmers include: She Universe, Solomon's Gold, Ocho, Whittakers, Raglan Bean to Bar Chocolate.