Vanuatu’s ACTIV chocolate makers go for gold

Vanuatu’s ACTIV Association chocolate makers are keeping fingers crossed for their first entry into the 2017 International Chocolate Awards in USA.

Vanuatu’s Aelan Chocolates are competing in the 2017 International Chocolate Awards in USA.

Sandrine Wallez, Director of the ACTIV Association in Port Vila was in Auckland recently as part of the Pacific Trade Invest (PTI) Pacific Path to Market delegation to the Pasifika Festival 2017. The Pacific Path to Market programme is a structured approach to helping potential exporters gain a better understanding of the New Zealand market.

But before coming to Auckland, chocolate samples from the islands of Santo, Malekula, Epi and Malo were entered in the International Chocolate Awards’ Americas & Asia-Pacific competition and promptly dispatched to Hoboken, USA,  before the closing deadline of March 28.

“That is the first time we attended an international competition for our Vanuatu chocolate,” Ms Wallez said. “We keep the fingers crossed for our chocolate.”

Sandrine Wallez at the Aelan Chocolate Makers stall at Pasifika in Auckland last month.

They entered the competition to see how it compared with other manufacturers and to start getting international recognition for Vanuatu chocolate. http://www.internationalchocolateawards.com/competition-info/?comp_id=128631.

The International Chocolate Awards began in 2012 run by a group of international partners based in the USA, Italy and the UK. A panel of judges decide the winners. Judging for the Americas and Asia-Pacific Region ran from March 29 to April 4 in the New York Metropolitan region with results due out soon. Last year’s winners of Plain/origin dark chocolate bars were mostly from Canada, USA and South America.

According to the website www.internationalchocolateawards.com, the aim of the competition is to “recognise the best in fine chocolate wherever it is. The national or regional competitions are designed to help promote fine chocolate to consumers.”

Sandrine Wallez of Aelan Chocolates and ACTIV Association.

All national or regional winners are then eligible to enter the ‘World Final’ at the end of the year – bringing the best of the best from around the world to the final with the winners gaining more kudos and promotion.

“We do not know yet what will be the result but the local feedback is quite good … even from the New Zealand people who tasted it at the Pasifika festival,” Ms Wallez said.

The ACTIV Association works with four producer groups on Malekula, Epi, Santo and Malo islands of Vanuatu representing some 200 growers. They have relatively little experience in exporting, however, they have attended an annual trade show in New Caledonia where they sold about 650 bars in an event called the “Wik blong Vanuatu” organised by the Vanuatu Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

They are now in the process of coming up with new chocolate packaging designs, increasing production and looking to export.

Cocoa beans from Aelan.

They have entered cocoa samples from these island producers in the International Cocoa Awards as part of the Cocoa of Excellence (CoEx) programme in France –

Again, it was another first for Vanuatu entering the competition and awaiting feedback.

“We really want to assist the producers to understand the quality and give them a chance to access a better market in the chocolate industry,” Ms Wallez said.

There’s a hive of activity at the ACTIV Association, involved as it is in a beekeeping pilot project co-funded by the Pacific Funds from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France, the French Embassy in Vanuatu and ACTIV.

In early January, the ACTIV Association received 20 hives and are is waiting for queens and colonies to get the project started. The first 10 hives will be installed on Efate with five more on Malekula and five on the island of Epi with cocoa producer groups. They plan to train more women as beekeepers.

Vanuatu has a short history in beekeeping but by introducing the pilot programmes to the island archipelago they hope it can generate income, assist the increase of yields of crops through pollination and reduce reliance on refined sugar. In addition, they are conscious of keeping the new hives disease free as some of the islands will have bees introduced for the first time.

“We need to be careful of keeping the outer islands free of disease when introducing the queens with the colonies as some islands do not have bees,” she said.

The project also has several partners with the Biosecurity Department of the Vanuatu Government, Apis diffusion, a beekeeper from New Caledonia, Gilbert Gibson, a beekeeper living in Vanuatu and Flow hive from Australia who designed innovative bee hives.

Attending Pasifika Festival as part of the PTI Pacific Path to Market delegation was a good first time experience Ms Wallez said.

“We really thank the PTI Pacific Path to Market programme to allow us to attend such an event and having the chance to meet with businesses in New Zealand. It gave us the opportunity to better understand the New Zealand market and the different community expectations.

“We highly recommend this programme to businesses who are interested in exporting to New Zealand. We also have the opportunity to find a new market for the Vanuatu handicrafts with the Auckland War Museum which bought all our remaining stock from the Pasifika Festival.”

The ACTIV Association is continuing to seek further business links for the chocolate and virgin coconut oil and is currently working on new packaging to meet the New Zealand market requirements.

For more information please contact Joe Fuavao, PT&I Trade Development Manager on joe.f@pacifictradeinvest.co.nz

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