New player on the world chocolate stage

Shae McDonald
(Australian Associated Press)

Vanuatu may not be known for its chocolate but the tiny island nation is about to become a significant player in the industry with a little help from its Australian neighbours.

Cocoa producers and the founder of the not-for-profit company behind the label Aelan are travelling to Paris this weekend for the International Cocoa Awards.

Two of its four varietals, named after the islands where the produce comes from, have been ranked in the top 50 samples in the world even though many of the farmers had not tasted chocolate before.

Aelan also won three silvers and a bronze medal at the recent New Zealand Chocolate Awards.

Founder Sandrine Wallez said the success of the product had been so rapid her concern now was that the small-scale business wouldn’t be able to keep up with supply.

“My worry is that we don’t have enough cocoa,” she told AAP.

“We need to train more people.”

The volcanologist launched Aelan in June 2016 as part of not-for-profit organisation Activ she established in 2008.

Ms Wallez sources the cocoa from about 150 farmers and produces about 12 tonnes of chocolate per year.

Oxfam wants to distribute the bars in its Australian stores from next year, while there has also been interest from New Zealand and The Netherlands.

Ms Wallez said to keep up with demand, the farmers needed to produce more beans, its humble production facility needed expansion and she had to source a warehouse in Australia to reduce the shipping costs from Vanuatu.

Ms Wallez said this would also lead to the farmers being paid more, which is what the whole venture was about.

“It’s generating more income to the Vanuatu economy,” she said.

“But it’s also a window of what can be done.”

The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and University of Adelaide has been instrumental in making the Vanuatu chocolate story such a success.

ACIAR agribusiness research program manager Dr Rodd Dyer told AAP it had spent the past decade helping farmers make simple changes to improve quality and increase production.

The University of Adelaide also put Ms Wallez in touch with chocolate makers at Haigh’s Chocolates and Margaret River chocolatier Baden and Co, which have helped grow her business.

The venture is now working with Melbourne chocolate maker Matt Watt to come up with a range of new flavours that incorporate other local produce like ginger, turmeric and canarium nuts.

* The writer travelled to Vanuatu with the support of the Crawford Fund.


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