Going beyond taste: Auro Chocolate shares sweet success with local farmers

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FILE PHOTO. Auro Chocolate is now recognized as among the top chocolate brands in the world, receiving a total of 19 awards since it was established.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 22) — The cocoa bean—or simply cacao—is a treasure which is abundant in the Philippines, particularly in Davao. The founders of homegrown chocolate brand Auro Chocolate feel it is their mission to “uncover” this gem, and turn it into Filipino-flavored chocolates to be enjoyed by the whole world.

“It’s been here in the Philippines for over 300 years. Probably we’re the first country to have cacao in Asia, so we have a very strong heritage for it,” Kelly Go told CNN Philippines’ The Source. “But it was not really being utilized or maximized, so it’s like we have hidden gold in the Philippines.”

Since 2017, Go and his best friend Mark Mendoza Ocampo, through Auro Chocoloate, have been trading bean-to-bar chocolates made from cacao grown in Paquibato and Saloy towns in Davao del Sur.

“We’ve always had a passion for food, and so even when we met in the US, we’ve always [been] introducing Filipino flavors to our friends in the community,” Ocampo shared.

With the help of Go’s mom, a pastry chef, the tandem learned more about Davao cacao and decided to venture into the business of chocolate making.

But the journey, they recounted, wasn’t easily indulging.

“It was very difficult,” Ocampo said. “There [is] so much history of cacao in the Philippines, but at the same time there were still a lot [of things] to learn about it before we could turn it into something.”

The two even delayed the original plan to launch the brand to further learn about chocolate making in Germany, he added.

Go and Ocampo also struggled to partner with local farmers at first.

“It was a trader model so there were a lot of consolidating that was happening. And in order for us to be able to produce better quality chocolate, we first had to address the issue - that was better quality raw materials,” Ocampo said.

“Farmers had a lot of untapped potential, but for us to maximize that, there were a lot of stops to be taken. In the beginning it was hard to get framer’s trust and believing in this new model that we were trying to pursue,” Go said.

Yet after all the uncertainties they faced, the tandem is now reaping the fruits of their labor.

Auro Chocolate is now recognized in the whole world as among the top chocolate brands, receiving a total of 19 recognition and awards since it was established. One of its partner-farmers was also recently named among the world's top producers of best cacao samples.

READ: Davao farmer enters top 20 of International Cocoa Awards for Best Cacao Bean

The brand is now also being exported to other countries such as Japan, Germany, and United States, among others.

But Go and Ocampo said Auro Chocolate’s goal is beyond sustaining its business and making money. The company, they said, aims to elevate locally-produced cacao to the world and give recognition to small-time farmers.

“Davao right now is very popular for chocolates, but we want to bring attention to those even smaller communities within Davao to be able to showcase the unique characteristic that cacao has in those areas,” Ocampo said.

Go, meanwhile, said Auro Chocolate wants their products to start conversions that will put the spotlight on local cacao producers.

“Saloy is another small community just adjacent to Paquibato, and these are places that people don’t normally go [to] or not even aware of, so when they see [our products] that say Saloy, it starts a conversation. It brings better recognition to people and place,” she said.