Purveyors: Auro Chocolate Honors the Philippines’ Cacao Heritage Through Modern TechnologyJuly 14, 2017
Modernity and tradition need not be at odds with each other, especially where present-day technology can be key to giving our rich heritage the long-overdue recognition that it deserves. This much, and more, we can learn from Filipino bean-to-bar chocolate company Auro—which aims to not only make a mark for Philippine chocolate internationally, but also uplift the lives of the many hardworking farmers across the country.
It was in Chicago that Kelly Go and Mark Ocampo met and became friends, and would come to discover the Philippines’ chocolatey bounty—in the form of a chocolate bar by Missouri bean-to-bar company Askinosie Chocolate in 2010, made with cacao from Davao. “We didn’t even realize the Philippines had cacao, let alone [chocolate],” he admits. But this sparked their interest and they had their tita Nieva Corneja (who would soon become manager of the company’s Davao chapter) over to the said city to take a look at the current scene. “There was so much cacao in Davao,” he shares, and this included the rare variety deemed Criollo Porcelana—known to be among the highest-sought after in the world.
But these discoveries did not come without setbacks: for one, the national production of cacao at the time was too small for larger-scale processing facilities that could produce chocolate of their ideal level of quantity and quality. The quality of the cacao wasn’t at its best either, in part due to how people were not willing to pay farmers prices that would encourage them to produce better products. Another factor was that bigger companies had brought in varieties of cacao of the higher-yielding but inferior-tasting sort—and with no segregation being done, all varieties, including the finer ones originally found here had that could be of much higher value, would be sold at prices all similar (and cheap!). And because farmers were not informed of the different varieties and their respective value, many had unwittingly chopped down, sold (for cheap), or gotten rid of trees of what could apparently have been the coveted Criollo cacao.
It’s really unfortunate . . . without the farmers, the Philippines wouldn’t have food. We wouldn’t really have anything.
Seeing the untapped potential alongside the unfortunate status of the industry, Go and Ocampo made the decision to jump on board with the project they would soon name Auro. After a five-year break as the two continued on their respective fields (marketing and advertising for Ocampo, political science and culinary school for Go), the pair would go on to study more about chocolate and the chocolate-making craft in Germany. “[We realized that] if we really wanted to commit [and be able to] do quality Filipino chocolate, then we really had to understand all of the makings [that mark] good quality,” Ocampo explains. “[And] in order for you to make good quality, you really need to invest in the time and effort to understand very single step of the process.” Knowing they were ready to go big, Go and Ocampo chose to invest in industrial-scale machines from Germany and Italy, which allows them produce more chocolate with a fine texture and flavor at par with that of their international competitors. More crucially, working with bigger machines also allows them to reach more farmers—over 2000 of whom they currently work with.
“It wasn’t even about the cacao anymore, because what ended up happening was that we really wanted to make it more sustainable for the farmers,” Ocampo relays. With this, Auro emphasizes the importance of creating partnerships with farmers, where they guarantee consistent buying of a set amount of cacao that ensures there will always be a market for them. And to incentivize good quality (and good practices), Auro makes use of a “price matrix” which offers higher prices for better cacao.
There’s so much potential, but [people] need to be willing to do the work . . . We have so much heritage [and] so much history. We just need to do something with it.
Moreover, Auro helps equip the farmers themselves with the tools they need to produce higher quality outputs, teaching them the theoretical knowledge and practical know-how on all things cacao-related and beyond (e.g. sustainability, good farming practices, and the like). But the company is also very much open to learning from the farmers in the process (“they are the farmers . . . [so] they are the experts,” Ocampo explains). This dynamic learning process allows them to learn more about the cacao on our shores, of which Ocampo admits there are still numerous undetermined things (such as origin and genetic lineage), and to refine their knowledge to be more specifically geared toward the Philippine context, whose physical environment can differ vastly from that of other cacao-growing countries.
The big goal for Auro is to be able to stand alongside international competitors, and help establish the Philippines as a country with good chocolate. “We need to hold ourselves in a higher standards,” Ocampo shares. Still, they retain a sense of humility, constantly aiming to improve their work for the better. “I think we are forever students in that sense,” emphasizes Ocampo.
“We don’t compete [for the sake of] dominating a market, [but to] constantly improve, so that when . . . the time comes [that] the Philippines is recognized as a chocolate and cacao country, then the impression that we make is that it is a really good one. [So] when people think about the Philippines, they [would know] good chocolates comes from there, [that] good cacao comes from there . . . [and that] we are a very rich agricultural country that focuses on developing good quality products, and takes care of our farmers.”
Local bean-to-bar chocolate company out not just to make a mark for the Philippines with chocolate made with quality cacao and processed using cutting-edge technology, but also give back to Filipino cacao farmers.