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From cocoa bean to bonbon
Cocoa: also known as ‘brown gold’ or ‘Food of the Gods’. Peruvian chocolate enjoys international fame and is renowned worldwide for its excellent quality. Competition in this trade is fierce however, as chocolate manufacturer Gustavo Barberis of La Cholita also experienced.
La Cholita is a family business in Cuzco, Peru, and was founded in 1959 by the father of the current owner, Gustavo Barberis. Together with his wife and daughter, Gustavo now runs a small chocolate factory, which manufactures delicious chocolates and other chocolate products using traditional methods.
50 years of chocolate
Gustavo’s daughter, Daniella, left for the capital Lima a few years ago to study, and ended up finding a good job there. Her parents’ business in Cuzco nevertheless remained continually on her mind. She ultimately decided to take the plunge and return home, to become commercial director of La Cholita. Her father now serves as its general management, while mother, Junia, does the accounts. A workforce of around fifteen – comprising mainly women – runs the production process. Ms Flora is also a member of staff – and has been for over 50 years. Despite having retired officially, she still misses the daily routine and therefore faithfully turns up almost every day to pack chocolates.
“We try to remain one step ahead of the competition by continually coming up with innovative products”
Daniella: “There is a lot of competition on the market in and around Cuzco. However, La Cholita has been around for quite some time and therefore boasts considerable brand recognition. We have two shops at strategic locations in the centre of Cuzco and at the airport.” La Cholita previously manufactured almost only chocolate paste. When its competitors also started manufacturing this product on a large scale, however, the firm decided to change course and focus on the production of chocolates. “We try to remain one step ahead of the competition by continually coming up with innovative products. We sorely needed PUM’s assistance in that regard.”
PUM chose Hendrik Deschacht, an experienced chocolatier from Belgium, for this consultancy assignment in Peru. Hendrik: “It had been quite a while since I was involved in the manufacture of this splendid cocoa product. Prior to embarking on my mission, I therefore visited various chocolatiers, culminating in a personal training course in the very latest techniques at Belcolade (a famous Belgian chocolate manufacturer). Shortly afterwards, I departed for the Peruvian city of Cuzco with a suitcase full of chocolate moulds, recipes and equipment. It took me some time to fully acclimatise (Cuzco is situated at an altitude of 3400 metres). I basically spent the first day just looking around and visiting the sales centres. They manufacture a large selection using traditional methods and with very limited resources. A remarkable feat is that they make their own chocolate, from the cocoa bean to the finished product, the luxury chocolates and bars. They purchase cocoa beans at a fair price from local farmers in the Cuzco area, who grow organically and supply excellent quality. The production line that makes the chocolate looks more like a museum. Much of the machinery dates from just after World War II.” Gustavo Barberis: “The machinery may be outdated, but still works well enough. It is just a little difficult to adjust the temperature, because the machines are not fitted with temperature regulators. As a large amount of chocolate is melted in a bain-marie, a lot of energy is consumed throughout the day, thus incurring unnecessary costs and placing an additional burden on the environment.”
Hendrik taught the entire staff, including Daniella and Gustavo, to make various types of new chocolates. The emphasis was on long-life chocolates containing various fresh fruit ganache and nut fillings. Considerable attention was also devoted to energy consumption and proper hygiene when processing chocolate products. He also made truffles filled with ingredients including ginger and coconut. Hendrik introduced new techniques for decorating the praline moulds in advance, for example, by using alcohol or fat-soluble colourings in the chocolate. This resulted in the production of a new range for the La Cholita sales centres in Cuzco.
“We now operate more efficiently and can therefore increase production”
Daniella: “PUM helped us expand. The expert was so knowledgeable, that we learned a lot in just a short time. He not only showed us new techniques to improve our process and make it more efficient, but also brought new moulds and a recipe book with him, which we now make grateful use of. Moreover, he taught us how to run our business better, in areas ranging from personnel and financial affairs to general management. We didn't just discuss the production process, but absolutely everything to do with running a business. We are eager to get started and make our dreams come true: The intention is to further expand La Cholita on a national and perhaps even international level. We are very grateful to Hendrik for everything he taught us within a short space of time. We now operate more efficiently and can therefore increase production. Hendrik’s new products are a welcome complement to our range.”
Even since Hendrik left Cuzco, the consultancy work has continued. Daniella: “Hendrik stays in touch with us almost daily by email or WhatsApp. He sends us interesting videos or information to optimize and expand our new range of products. He also warns us when second-hand equipment comes up for sale, and puts us in touch with potential suppliers.” Hendrik: “It is a terrible waste of both energy and time to heat up the chocolate over and over again. I therefore submitted an application to the Hans Blankert Fund (PUM’s fund for small-scale investments) for the purchase of a chocolate tempering machine. The application was approved, and the machine will be purchased soon. This should really bring about great progress at La Cholita.”
Text: Gabrielle ten Bokkel Huinink
Photography: Tiphaine Etienne, Gabrielle ten Bokkel Huinink