Arts & Leisure

By Carmencita A. Carillo, Correspondent

Davao chocolate is starting to make a splash

Posted on September 18, 2014

DAVAO CITY -- Francis D. Gonzales, a Manila-based meditation guru moved to Davao City in 2009 because of its serene atmosphere which he found ideal for teaching. Little did he know that he would instead end up as a chocolate maker and come up with a healthy recipe that even diabetics can enjoy.

COCO DOLCE, made from organic coconut sugar, cocoa from Davao, and coconut oil, could soon be available in Rustan’s and SM supermarkets.
“I started manufacturing coconut sugar which we exported to New York and China but somehow ended up producing chocolates,” he said.

It was actually a friend in Bicol who got him into thinking about chocolates after that friend became frustrated over being unable to get the right flavor using white sugar.

Mr. Gonzales suggested he use coconut sugar.

That friend has since transferred to Davao, and, along with Manila-based entrepreneur Peteri Makitalo and Mr. Gonzales, started producing chocolates using local cacao, organic coconut sugar, and coconut oil -- now sold under the brand Coco Dolce.

Research and development took almost a year before they were able to produce real chocolate bars in 2013 at their factory in Toril, Davao City.

“We started producing 2,000 pieces of chocolate bars, each weighing 100 grams and supplied airport stalls in Davao and Cebu,” Mr. Gonzales said.

Negotiations are now ongoing to make Coco Dolce available in the shelves of Rustan’s and SM supermarkets.

They started out with P10 million in capital, including spending for research and development and the purchase of imported machines.

Coco Dolce sources its fermented cacao beans from the Subasta Cooperative in Calinan, also in Davao City.

A 100-gram bar is sold at P150-P160 in the local market, with four varieties available: 65% dark chocolate, plain chocolate, chocolate pili, and soon a spicy chocolate which is currently being market-tested.

“We are trying to position Davao as a producer of cacao beans and value-added products,” said Belenda Ambi, officer-in-charge of the Department of Trade and Industry Region 11.

Ms. Ambi noted that five years ago, only two or three exhibitors from the cacao industry would join trade fairs because there were few producers then. But now, the industry has grown, with producers making not just edible cacao products but also cosmetics, she noted, adding, “It is good to note that the integrated efforts of both the government and private sector have now bore fruit.”

Coco Dolce was one of various cacao-related companies featured at the first Davao City Cacao Festival, organized by SM City Davao and the Cacao Industry Development Association of Mindanao (CIDAMI), from Sept. 12 to 14.

“By 2020, there will be a chocolate meltdown because of the shortage of cacao in the world market. By this time, the Davao Region will be ready to produce the cacao that the market demands,” said Valente D. Turtur, CIDAMI executive director.

The Chocolate Festival was primarily conducted to advocate for cacao production, not only in Davao but in the whole of Mindanao, he said.

“Holding this activity on a regular basis will help increase the interest of people not only in chocolates but also in cacao production,” he added.

Aside from taste tests of locally produced chocolates made from Davao’s cacao harvest, the festival also featured demonstrations on cacao processing, seedlings and chocolate production.

Precious Ann Legario, public relations manager of SM City Davao, said they had an existing partnership with farmers even before the festival and regularly hold an organic market at the mall grounds.

“It is high time that Dabawenyos get to taste their own world-class chocolate considering that the dark chocolates made of Davao’s cacao are already being sold in the international market,” Mr. Turtur said.

One of the activities undertaken during the festival was a demonstration of the processing of cacao to tableya (chocolate tablets for making cocoa drink) or coco powder.

A national cacao “convergence” is slated in the city by November this year wherein cacao stakeholders and government representatives will evaluate the present status of the industry and plan for increasing export.

Among the issues faced by the industry is the lack of quality cacao seedlings and technical training for farmers.

“At present the various agencies provide seedlings to farmers but they also need training on how to grow cacao properly,” Mr. Turtur said.

Ms. Ambi said cacao is being developed as a Mindanao brand product since 90% of the country’s cacao products currently come from Mindanao.