Ola Pacifica looking to grow their cacao export market
A Pacific inspired chocolatier has taken the step to set up shop in Samoa in the near future.
Ola Pacifica founder Alofagia Isara-Belcher has moved home to develop a sustainable export supply of Samoan cacao for their products.
Ms Belcher and her husband Phil Belcher began Ola Pacifica to bring Samoan cacao to the New Zealand consumer. Ola Pacifica sells dark chocolates and cacao nibs, not as confectionery but rather as a healthy treat.
At first, the supply came from Ms Belchers’ family farm network. But as demand for Ola Pacifica products grew, supply couldn’t keep up. Now it’s time to strengthen the capacities of other suppliers, to help reach her target of eventually shipping out five containers of Samoan cacao to New Zealand a year.
“We have been focusing on securing the market on the other side and everything is all set now. So I’ve come over to help my family firmly establish our own suppliers,” Ms Belcher said.
“We are very confident that we can get two containers this year, which is very ambitious but that is our aim.”
Ola Pacifica is based in Hawke's Bay, New Zealand where they process and manufacture all the chocolate products, which are shipped around New Zealand, Australia, Germany and the United States.
Supply can be a challenge from Samoa, as well as getting consistent supply of quality beans. And today the local koko samoa market pays better and more quickly than the export market does, which Ms Belcher said takes a lot of potential export product off the table.
“It’s up to the farmers and their choice, and it depends how big their farms are of course, and if they want a share of that big market,” she said.
“Most farmers might be quite comfortable not to have much money, and just do Koko Samoa.”
In New Zealand, Ms Belcher often finds herself being the only brown face in a room of chocolate makers. That adds to her drive to make her products from Samoan cacao, despite those supply challenges.
She said that isolation in a European-dominated industry might have stopped other chocolatiers, but not her.
“I’m pretty proud to be representing Samoa as an artisan chocolate maker. It’s been awesome, it wasn’t something I dreamed of, it’s the path that was paved for me,” she said.
While they have played with sourcing cacao from elsewhere, the focus on Samoan supply is personal to Ms Belcher and her heritage.
“I have proven the quality of the chocolate in my products, my customers come back for more and continue to wait for more.”
She is determined to beat that supply issue, both in quantity and quality. Some farmers already know what the international market wants, and others can still learn, she said, including about the customs specifications.
“When I come over make sure specs are achieved, it’s mainly for quarantine and customs,” she said.
“There have been beans that have been rejected and that is quite costly for us. But it’s hard to say no to farmers when they come needing money and their koko is not how we want it.”
Ms Belcher works with farmers to learn how to process the cacao to reach the quality required, not only for her chocolate but for quarantine. That process is about establishing trust, before going on to talk fermentation and drying techniques.
She said she will stay in Samoa for as long as it takes – until she feels her supply line can handle the demand she drums up around the world – for Ola Pacifica’s products.