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Our chocolate in Sydney this weekend

For those living in these local areas, our chocolate is available for purchase in person at the following locations in Sydney this weekend. It may be worth calling first to check stock. Practice social distancing and follow Government guidelines relating to Covid19!

Kingsmore Meats at 22 Plumer Rd, Rose Bay on Saturday (8am-3pm) and Sunday (9am-2pm). Phone is 9363 4971.

Paesanella Cheese Haberfield, at 88 Ramsay St, Haberfield on Saturday only. Opening hours are 7:30am – 2:30pm. Phone is 9799 0077

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Today show update

Dear all, we have had an amazing response from Jessica appearing on the Today show this morning. Thank you all so much for your support!

Please note that we are experiencing a lot of demand for orders and many of our products are now out of stock on the online store but are still available to order. We will be able to work through any backorders but we would hugely appreciate your patience as we do this.

Our shop at Haberfield is not open for retail, however we do have a small number of specialty shops who are stocking our chocolate bars. We will provide you with this list shortly if they have stock available.

Thanks again! Yours in cacao and chocolate.

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From cacao to chocolate – in uncertain times

Earlier this year I achieved one of my long term social enterprise goals when I opened South Pacific Cacao, my own boutique chocolate factory in Haberfield, Sydney with my business partner the amazing Chocolate Artisan Jessica Pedemont.

This was the culmination of a five year cacao journey, which included supporting farming communities in the Solomon Islands to produce award-winning cacao beans and establishing premium supply chains into Australia, New Zealand and the competitive European craft chocolate market.

A few years ago Jessica and I decided that we would team up to create a new social enterprise pathway that linked my work in the South Pacific with the fine artisan markets in Sydney that was front and centre for Jessica. Cacao and chocolate would be the start but the sky was the limit!

South Pacific Cacao has been a while in the crafting, but we softly opened in the beautiful foodie destination of Ramsay St, Haberfield early this year, which is Jessica’s local neighbourhood. We’ve had some lovely online shoutouts in the first few months already, including Not Quite Nigella and Timeout with a few other exciting opportunities in the pipeline.

You may be aware that after working for nearly 20 years in the IT industry, I took a break a few years ago to work fulltime on my cacao social enterprise in the Solomon Islands, supporting my local farming communities on my home island of Makira to access premium markets and earn a better and fairer income.  It was very exciting at the time, however it very nearly sent my wife and I bankrupt and came with significant personal stress for the both of us. On a positive note it sufficiently accelerated my work in the Solomons so that two years ago I returned to earning a regular income in the Technology scene in Brisbane and back to spending my nights on cacao.

While time poor, this provided enough financial security again to progress another opportunity – this time with Jessica on our boutique chocolate factory!

Now the bad news which should be no surprise, we have chosen the worst time in the last 100 years to open a food business! We had planned to open before Christmas 2019, however this got delayed to January 2020 and by mid March we had to close our physical retail presence due to the Coronavirus pandemic. We also don’t qualify for any of the government assistance as we haven’t been trading for long enough.

Our short term goal at this point is simply to generate enough sales through our online channel and with our existing wholesale customers to pay our expenses (mainly rent!) so that we can keep afloat for the next 3-6 months during this uncertainty. Although Jessica runs the factory day to day, we aren’t expecting to pay any wages for some time, which is very challenging for her and her family.

Like many other local businesses, we really need your support to help us get through this time!  I know that many of my IT colleagues across many industries are hurting right now, so only if possible in your circumstances, could I please ask for your support with any of the following:

1) Visit our website www.southpacificcacao.com and place an order for some amazing craft chocolate.

2) Share our story and website with friends and colleagues and encourage them to make an online purchase.

3) Like our social media pages on Facebook and Instagram and subscribe to our website blog.

5) Support the other local chocolate makers in Australia who make chocolate themselves from cacao beans, many of whom are struggling at the moment. I personally know many of these wonderful people. The full list of them here. You will pay three or four times the price of a chocolate bar from Coles or Woolworths, but this is the difference between a beautifully crafted wine and a very cheap, poor quality cask wine. Your standard chocolate bar from the supermarket will have a dozen ingredients (with high percentage of cheap sugar). A high quality craft chocolate bar only needs 4 or 5 ingredients at most, with the unique flavour in a dark chocolate coming from the single origin / single estate / smallholder farm cacao beans. Plus these chocolate makers can pay farmers up to double what they earn from supplying the Nestle/Cadbury supply chains. They certainly do if sourcing through Makira Gold.

South Pacific Cacao is co-located at 74 Ramsay St, Haberfield with Jessica’s Chocolate Artisan brand. The shop is currently closed for retail due to current coronavirus regulations however we are taking online orders on our website www.southpacificcacao.com

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You can still see my Solomon Islands cacao social enterprise, Makira Gold at www.makiragold.com (Photo above at one of the cacao farms we support in Makira – Lenard Nahurua)

(This article also published on LinkedIn.

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Grainpro Solar bubble drier

We are currently trialling some new technology for drying cacao beans. We introduced the Grainpro Solar Bubble Drier (SBD) to the Solomons and we arranged for a Grainpro rep to attend the Solomon Islands chocolate festival so they could demonstrate the unit. Post festival we were kindly provided with a unit by PHAMA and we have set it up in Togori village, Makira in what is the first trial for the Pacific. After the first trial we will send it down to our cacao farms at Waimarae, West Makira.

These SBDs are better than existing solar driers for a few reasons:

  • They still dry the commodity in rainy and overcast conditions (common in Solomons)
  • They are easy to ship to the end destination, packed inside a few boxes (approx 50kg total) and can be setup in 2 hours
  • They are easy to pack away in case of cyclones

As well as those benefits, they are even better than the usual artificial driers used for the bulk market beans due to:

  • Don’t need to chop firewood and maintain a fire for the 3 days+ of drying
  • More cost effective

We’re very excited to be leading this innovative new technology within the Solomons and also leading this for the Pacific.

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History of cocoa in Solomon Islands

I’ve been exchanging some interesting emails with Grant Vinning, cocoa specialist in the Pacific, who is currently undertaking research for his upcoming book “Cocoa in the Pacific: First 50 years”.  Previously the standard line of thinking was that cocoa was planted in the Solomons around the 1950s, however he’s uncovered the following information that cocoa was being planted in the late 19th century:

The earliest reference to cocoa in the Solomons that I can find is when Charles Morris Woodford, the energetic High Commissioner for the Western Pacific, visited John Stephens at Ugi in the Makira district in 1896.  Woodford observed that Stephens had planted cocoa trees around his house.  Woodford also observed that the trees were “diseased and neglected” suggesting they were planted in the late 1880s.  My source for this is Lawrence’s 2014 biography of Woodford.

Oscar Karl Svensen, a Norwegian who had massive holdings around Marau is another early cocoa planter.  In its extensive obituary in February 1964, the Pacific Islands Monthly listed an amazing number of crops that Svensen experimented with.  One of these was cocoa, something confirmed by Golden in 1993 when he wrote his collection of vignettes of early white settlers of the Solomons.  Svensen left the Solomon a very rich man 1912.  This suggests that his cocoa plantings would have occurred at around the turn of the Twentieth Century.

More support for the notion that cocoa was introduced into the Sols at the turn of the previous century comes from an unusual source.

Cocoa was introduced into Samoa by the 1890s.  Very early on it was clear that Samoans would not work on the plantations.  As a result, the German authorities in Samoa granted permission to the plantation companies in Samoa to import labour.  There were two basic sources of labour – China and Melanesia.  Whilst some companies imported Chinese labour, the biggest company of them all had an exclusivity arrangement to import cheaper labour from other German colonies in the Pacific.  Remember, before 1899 Santa Cruz was under German control.  Robert Louis Stevenson specifically mentioned Solomon Islanders in his 1892 account of troubles in Samoa.  Robb is more precise: some 5700 workers were brought from the Solomons and New Guinea, on three-year indentures on wages of 5 pounds a year .   When their time was up in Samoa, these labourers could have brought their cocoa growing skills back to the Solomons.  They may even have brought back some cocoa beans.  Solomon Islanders were also recruited to work in Fiji.  By the late 1890s, cocoa was an established crop there.  Again, the returnees could have brought this knowledge back with them. Finally, we know that a Trinitaro type cocoa was introduced from Vanuatu into Santa Cruz in 1935.  By that stage cocoa production in Vanuatu was around 2,770 t that came from around 60 plantations.

Ugi is an island off the coast of Makira and Marau Sound is on the eastern end of Guadalcanal and visible from West Makira.  ACIAR is currently doing some genetic mapping of some cocoa in Makira, will be interesting to see those results later this year.

Grant also sent through this rather insightful and timeless snippet from the now defunct Pacific Islands Monthly, July 1933.

Cocoa Solomons PIM July 1933