US chocolate business Guittard extends its flavour quality work in Africa and Indonesia

The US-headquartered Guittard Chocolate Company, as part of its Cultivate BetterTM sustainability platform, has reported an expansion of its flavour quality work in Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Indonesia.

As the company explained, the initiative is designed to protect and preserve the unique flavours of each of the three country’s cocoa harvests, which are a key element of their respective economies.

With the support of The World Cocoa Foundation, USAID, Swisscontact, and the Millennium Challenge Account, Guittard is carrying out comprehensive programs in the world’s leading cocoa producing countries, working with breeders, extension agents, cooperatives, and farmers.

Presently, the fourth and fifth generation of Guittards who are now responsible for the 151-year-old premium chocolate company have recognised the value of delivering with the company’s flavour labs. They are part of an effort designed to address the negative implications of what Gary Guittard terms the “incremental degradation” of cocoa flavour.  This is the result of an industry-wide shift toward breeding cocoa for high yields and disease resistance without any consideration for its overall taste.

Recognising the need to be competitive in the cocoa market, the flavour labs allow researchers in their respective countries to develop the tools and skills to objectively assess the flavour of different cocoa varieties and incorporate this basic and critical component into their breeding programs together with productivity.

Guittard notes that most cocoa farmers have not tasted the chocolate that is made from their beans, nor have they had the opportunity to taste the differences among the varieties of their country’s cocoa or the results when harvesting, fermentation, drying, and storage are done correctly and when they are not. The programme works with cocoa farmers, cooperatives, and extension agents to “learn by tasting” how their skill and craftsmanship can build value and strengthen customer relationships.

Policymakers are learning to appreciate the differences in the flavour of their country’s cocoa varieties, regional flavour differences, and to understand why it’s important to protect historical flavour profiles to safeguard market position as well as create new market opportunities.

The Flavour Labs and sensory panel training are part of the company’s larger sustainability mission that balances prioritising flavour, quality, and value with substantial investments in education and training to improve farmer livelihoods.

This all makes good business sense, says Guittard, because the company, as well as its customers and supply chain partners, do best when it has long-term, consistent sources of high-quality ingredients from stable business partners. Through these programs, Guittard helps provide opportunities for cocoa farmers and their communities to prosper by producing premium-quality cocoa and building long-term relationships.

Within Ghana, the company has worked with the  USAID/WCF Africa Cocoa Initiative, to help train a cocoa sensory panel at the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) to identify and preserve the rich chocolate flavour of Ghana cocoa in their breeding program and pre- and post-harvest practices.

Meanwhile, in Ivory Coast, a similar lab programme has been established at the country’s Centre National de Researche Agronomique (CNRA). John Kehoe, Guittard’s director of sustainability, travelled to Ivory Coast in September 2018 with cocoa processing equipment for their lab to expand this critical WCF/USAID work to the world’s largest cocoa-producing country. Ongoing training, the development of new partnerships, flavour-based research, and farmer extension will add important skills and knowledge to unlock value within the Ivoirian cocoa sector.

Another key market has been in Indonesia, yet cocoa production has contracted due to disease pressure and cocoa farmers switching to other crops. In partnership with the Indonesia Coffee Cocoa Research Institute (ICCRI), Swisscontact, and the Millennium Challenge Account, Guittard led the effort to install a flavour lab in December 2017 along with continued sensory training both on-site and via Skype.

These new tools and skills are allowing ICCRI and Indonesia to recognise, assess, and celebrate the quality and diversity of flavour inherent in Indonesian cocoa and to access new markets.

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