The World Gets Sweet on Chocolate Orgániko
Author: Adrienne Smiith/©ICEX
Publication Date: 11 Jul 2012
Like most companies, Chocolate Orgániko started as a concept, a deliciously sweet and sometimes spicy idea that has turned into something much more tangible: a Spanish brand of artisanally-made organic chocolates that has become so popular around the world that exports currently account for an impressive 80% of all sales.
“Let’s learn to do something new!” This admirable sentiment by María Eugenia Pozo Serrano and Carlos Ortiz de Río Blas, captured the driving force behind Chocolate Orgániko, the steadily growing organic chocolate company that this thirty-something couple established in 2006. Burned out from years in the advertising business, Eugenia and Carlos decided to turn their love of chocolate and their steadfast dedication to a healthy and organic lifestyle into a new business that would fulfill a growing “need to do something that they felt passionate about”, as Eugenia so aptly put it. It would also put their many years of communications, marketing and graphic design skills to the test, focusing on the best brand of all, their own.
The first step was to dive head first into the world of organic chocolate, learning all they could about its origins and production techniques. They invested all their savings into the new company and took out a loan to buy a small workshop/office in Eugenia’s hometown of Alcalá de Henares (Madrid). Eugenia initially divided her time between an advertising career and the new company. Meanwhile, in addition to designing the brand’s eye-catching, colorful graphics and packaging, Carlos took a class on how to process and work with chocolate. Soon after that the pair had their first experience with what they now say has been one of the defining aspects of their business, “the luck that we have had in meeting certain people along the way.”
Not only have they enjoyed immense support from family members, but also one of the couple’s early influences was the well-known Madrid pastry chef and chocolatier Ricardo Martínez, whom they originally approached to become their chocolate maker. Ricardo took the time to teach, encourage and convince Eugenia and Carlos that they had what it took to make the chocolate themselves. According to Eugenia, “This belief in our abilities was fundamental to getting the business up and running.” With Ricardo’s help, Carlos took up a spatula began to make chocolates, something that he still does today with the help of employees Raquel de Lucas and María Ángeles Gómez.
Another source of assistance was Danilo Duarte of the National Cocoa Commission of the Dominican Republic, whom they met at the Alimentaria food fair in Barcelona. They traveled to his country to visit organic chocolate plantations and study factors like pH levels and fermentation processes. In Eugenia’s words, “We wanted to specialize in organic cacao to be able to make our own chocolates, starting from a quality raw product. It is a very dynamic process and we wanted this to be reflected in the flavor of our products.” This also gave them a first hand look at the organic cultivation processes, which use no chemicals, pesticides or heavy metal additives of any kind.
Finally, the company got a significant boost from the Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade (ICEX), Plan de Iniciación a la Promoción Exterior (Exterior Promotion Initiation Program) or PIPE program, in which they have been very proud and grateful participants. The objective of this two-year program is to help small and medium-sized companies launch themselves into the international marketplace. Not only does it grant economic support for attending pricey international trade fairs and other things, it also provides an international strategy consultant to help steer companies in the right direction in terms of exporting.
Sweetening the deal
With all of this dedication and support, it’s no surprise that just six years later this duo has started to reap the benefits of their leap of faith. Current production is around 20 tons per year, and the steadily growing company has gone from sales of 60,000 Euros in its first year, to current annual sales of approximately 380,000 Euros. Although twenty percent of its products are sold in gourmet specialty shops and delicatessens here in Spain, their greatest triumph has been in the export market –their primary objective from the very beginning. According to Carlos, “In Spain, the concept of organic is still relatively new compared to other countries. In places like the United States and Germany, however, the fact that a product is organic gives it a lot of added value. We knew going into this that the export market would be key for our success.”
They didn’t have to wait long. Just six months after opening, the company was approached by a German importer who had been looking for interesting new products on the Internet. Today, Germany is still its largest market, followed by other countries in Europe such as Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Other importers include the United States, Chile, Canada and Mexico, as well as Japan, Australia and Hong Kong. With consumers in so many different countries, one of the biggest challenges has been learning to adapt their products to varying demands.
Flavors of success
In addition to learning the ins and outs of exporting with regards to customs, food certifications, prices, weights and packaging issues, one of the main concerns was food expiration dates. Chocolate Orgániko first opened with a line of organic chocolate bars and truffles. However, due to the short shelf life of truffles, the company had to find something more suitable for international trade, so the truffles were replaced with delectable chocolate bombons (bonbons). They also learned that favorite flavors vary from country to country, making it important to offer a wide range of different products.
Currently, Chocolate Orgániko has two main product lines: tablets (bars) and bombons. As you might imagine, these are no ordinary chocolates. Their line of bombons, known as the Gran Cru Collection, features nine exquisite flavors of chocolate balls containing varying percentages of chocolate. A few examples include: the intense 70% Dark Chocolate with Mint, an irresistible 30% White Chocolate with Lemon and Cinnamon, the fragrant 70% Dark Chocolate with Orange and Bergamot, a wonderfully spicy 46% Milk Chocolate with Chili, Vanilla and Cinnamon and a creamily textured 56% Dark Chocolate with Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
Besides the bombons, there are two lines of chocolate bars, divided into the categories Why Dark, The Origin of Chocolate, and Gastronomic Collection. The former includes four varieties of tablets that range from 95% to 65% chocolate, while the latter features fourteen varieties of tablets with different intensities of dark, milk and white chocolate combined with innovative flavors like orange and cardamom, flor de sal (the top layer of sea salt), Ethiopian coffee, vanilla, lemon and pink peppercorn, green anise, honey and almonds, and Earl Grey tea, to name a few. Another noteworthy flavor is the unique 56% Dark Chocolate Tablet with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which, according to Carlos, was the first tablet of its kind launched by any company.
In addition to the chocolate, which they make from 100% organic Trinitario cacao beans primarily from the Dominican Republic, all of the other ingredients are completely organic and sourced, when possible, from within Spain: for instance, the chili and mandarin orange are from Valencia and the flor de sal is from Ibiza and Palma de Mallorca. They are also the finest ingredients that money can buy. For example, the extra virgin olive oil made by Rincón de la Subbética in Córdoba is the most award-winning organic olive oil in Spain, while the exquisitely intense India vanilla powder costs around 600 Euros per kilo (approximately 750 dollars per 2.2 pounds).
While these two product categories have enjoyed success both in Spain and abroad, Eugenia and Carlos are intent on reinvesting their burgeoning earnings in their company in order to develop new and innovative products. Their latest adventure involves a new line of irresistibly packaged Chocolate Creams. These thick and creamy spreads come in five flavors: flor de sal, chili, extra virgin olive oil, bitter and mandarin orange. They are set to launch this fall.
Another investment has been in the creation of Banus, an entirely separate brand of chocolate tablets, which was launched in early 2012. It consists of six varieties that are aimed at a larger consumer market. Still made up of varying percentages of high quality dark, milk and white organic chocolate, these bars eschew the more exquisite but expensive ingredients of the Chocolate Orgániko brand in favor of more ‘basic’ flavors like orange and flor de sal. Currently this brand is only available in Spain and Hong Kong.
Now that these quality chocolates have come to the attention of prominent Madrid chefs like Javier Librero of the Hotel Wellington and Jesús Pueblo of the Hotel Intercontinental, the company has developed a line of one-kilo tablets specifically for the restaurant industry. As both Carlos and Eugenia like to say, “The most important thing is to have the idea, and from there see how you can progressively adapt it to people’s needs”. And considering all that this small company has achieved in the last six years, it looks like they’ve figured out how to do just that.
Adrienne Smith is a sommelier, chef and freelance writer. She has spent the last decade eating and drinking her way through Spain.