Interview with Sandrine Wallez, Manager, AELAN Chocolate Makers, Vanuatu
1) What is ‘ACTIV’, its mains activities, products and partners ?
ACTIV (Alternative Communities Trade in Vanuatu) Association is a local organisation based in Port Vila the capital of Vanuatu which works for the economical, social and environmental empowerment of the marginalized and most disadvantaged small scale producers and communities of the archipelago of Vanuatu. We assist the small scale producers and the communities for access to market for their products, training for quality and product development and also have some social and environment projects. ACTIV works in partnership with international organisations such as the Australian Centre for the International Agriculture Research (ACIAR) with the support of donors such as the French and Australian governments.
2) ACTIV owns AELAN Chocolate Makers which factory is in Vanuatu. What were your main challenges and successes? Was it difficult to get the processing equipment?
AELAN (which means island in Bislama) is the community brand for all the products coming from the small scale producers and the communities from the islands of the archipelago of Vanuatu. Aelan Chocolate Makers (ACM) was created to provide a better market for the cocoa producers with a chocolate factory based in Vanuatu to reduce the international shipping costs of the cocoa beans, provide a better price for the premium cocoa beans and generate more employment locally. ACM is dedicated to value add the local quality cocoa beans into fine chocolate and access boutique niche markets to get more returns for the cocoa producers in Vanuatu. ACM is owned by ACTIV Association and the benefits ACM are re invested with ACTIV Association to assist more producers.
The main challenges we had were the lack of capitals for the purchase of the equipments, the poor cocoa beans quality at the beginning and the lack of experience in the chocolate making. I learned from scratches and mistakes and got the chance to meet with Josh Bahen from Bahen & Co from Australia who helped me to see clearer in the fine chocolate making world with his good advices! We started from the ground level and received in July 2018 gold medals for our AELAN chocolate for Best Vegan Chocolate at the International Chocolate Salon – artisan chocolate awards in San Francisco USA. This result is a big achievement from assisting the cocoa producers to produce high quality cocoa beans to handcrafting high quality fine chocolate in Vanuatu. These are the medals for the full supply chain as a team with the cocoa producers from the islands of the archipelago.
It tooks us a while to find the appropriate equipments and import them to Vanuatu. I check for several suppliers from all around the world to find the equipments for our micro scale chocolate production.
3) Do you serve tourism markets and are your products used by chefs (in hotels, restaurants…)? How do you promote and market AELAN chocolate (i.e. shops, airport, cruises…where tourists are)?
Our AELAN chocolate is distributed in business class on the Air Vanuatu fights and some hotels are offering our AELAN chocolate to their VIP guests. Local chefs do not use our chocolate as it is more expensive than the imported cheap one. We promote our AELAN chocolate through our two shops (one at the ACTIV centre where is the chocolate factory and one on the main street of Port Vila), at the local supermarkets and boutiques in town and in hotels. We propose tours at the chocolate factory which is quite popular with the cruises.
4) Can you tell us more about your Vanuatu cocoa growers?
The cocoa producers we are working with are from different islands of the archipelago of Vanuatu. ACTIV started working with the producers of Epi then Malekula and Santo and Malo and now Aore. On Epi, Malekula and Malo we work with small scale producers, on Santo with the national research centre and on Aore with a plantation. According to the needs of the different producers group we provide different support such as farm management, post harvest techniques, genetic mapping, certifications..We started working with some of them since 2009 and assisted them slowly with the support of ACIAR to improve the quality of their cocoa beans. ACTIV assisted them to access the new market for quality cocoa beans with the AELAN chocolate factory and create a new market aside the existing bulk market. ACTIV is now assisting the producers to build the volume of quality cocoa beans to access export market for high quality cocoa beans.
5) You recently competed with the AELAN chocolate for the Artisan Chocolate Awards at the International Chocolate Salon 2018 and won 2 gold medals, 5 silver medals and 1 bronze Medal for the Best Vegan Chocolate awards and the Top Spicy Chocolate Awards.
It is very impressive. Could you tell us how this will help to boost your growth and what are your future plans?
With these awesome awards we sincerely hope to find niche markets all around the world to sell our AELAN chocolate and provide a better income for the cocoa producers and the communities as we have a range of five 70% dark chocolate island origin (Santo, Malo, Malekula, Epi and Aore) and a range of nine chocolate with local products (canarium, coconut, sea salt, chili pepper (freshly awarded), cristallized ginger, cristallized turmeric, cocoa nibs, coffee and kava). ACTIV/ AELAN work with the small-scale producers and the communities to create AELAN high quality products and bring Excellence to the grassroots.
More Information: https://aelanchocolate.com/