Gourmet chocolate the economic lifeline to Venezuela

At the end of the 18th century Venezuela was the world’s leading cocoa producer. But the rise of the oil industry in the 20th century and the emergence of Hugo Chavez saw the decline of the cocoa industry. Chavez boosted state involvement in the economy and promised to create a society of equals. However since the crash in oil prices – up to 90% of government revenue came from oil – society has been divided. Doctors and engineers rarely make as much as US$50 a month whilst other with access to small amounts of hard currency can afford gourmet products.

Recently in Caracas there have been some 20 new businesses launched producing bars of Gourmet chocolate which retails for around US0.80 each in high end grocery stores — well out of the reach of most Venezuelans who earn less than that in a week but catering for the well-off in a two-tier system. Bars can fetch US$10 in a place like New York and Paris but bureaucracy makes this very difficult.

Although aware of these barriers one producer, Nancy Silva, is now focused on getting her chocolate to France, where she once sold a single kilo of her chocolate for the equivalent of 80 euros (US$96), which is today the equivalent of five years of minimum wage salary in Venezuela.

Venezuela cocoa beans

Venezuela produces 16,000 tonnes per year which is less than 1% of the global output and less than 10% of regional output when you take into consideration big producers like Brazil and Ecuador. However the use of Venezuela cocoa is seen as a marketing tool for shops as bars are produced with 100% local cocoa which is deemed high quality.

Many gourmet bars made in the United States now prominently advertise the use of Venezuelan cocoa but generally mix in other less-desirable cocoas. Bars made in Venezuela by contrast are made with 100 percent local cocoa.

This gives the new Venezuelan chocolatiers a leg up as they tap into the global ‘bean-to-bar’ movement, in which chocolate makers oversee the entire process of turning cocoa fruit into sellable treats.

On the second floor of an old mansion in Caracas, economist and chef Giovanni Conversi has been making specialty chocolate for two years under the name Mantuano. Sprinkled with sea salt or aromatic fruits from the Amazon, the chocolate bars are a hit in London, Miami and Panama City in specialty chocolate stores or shops that specialize in Latin American food.

Source: Reuters – Gourmet chocolate becomes economic lifeline in Venezuela crisis – 12th January

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