French to fill void for local chocolate

French to fill void for local chocolate

BY STEVEN JACKSON Business reporter

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

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MEDIUM-SIZED coffee and cocoa farmer Averell French recently set up a chocolate manufacturing unit in Jamaica aimed at filling a void left by the stalled Highgate brand.

The brand, Mount Pleasant Chocolatiers started selling chocolate and beauty cocoa products six months ago.

"We are the only one that processes single bean cocoa entirely in Jamaica," French claimed at an event for the 'Countdown to the Food Awards' on Monday, at the Spanish Court Hotel in Kingston.

He recalled leaving the UK to cultivate his farm of 150 acres in Jamaica. It's now a vertically integrated operation, with cocoa produced on 26 acres that supplies a manufacturing unit with output of 300 pounds of chocolate a week.

"I decided I didn't want to spend my life in the UK. I have lived my life there as an architect and I wanted to do something else," he told the Business Observer.

The company makes cocoa butter, cocoa powder, face masks, cocoa nibs, dark chocolate, white chocolate, flavoured chocolate and chocolate wine. The products are distributed by Adam & Eve spa and retails at The Wine Shop.

He currently employs 15 persons on the farm, based on the western side of the Jamaica Blue Mountains, and factory at Bull Bay.

"The short-term vison is basically to introduce the product to people, to note the response, develop our product further and reach out to different markets. At the moment, we are looking to get the product in more Jamaican shops," he said.

Part of that national vision entails retailing in supermarket to create a distribution network similar to that of the Highgate chocolate brand. Highgate Foods, started by businessman Claude Clarke, remains Jamaica's most known local chocolate bar. The company however entered into receivership and its assets sold off in 2007 after some three decades in business. The trademark which bears the name of a town in St Mary, was reportedly acquired by conglomerate, Mussons Group. To date the company's have not returned to supermarket shelves.

Jamaica Cocoa Farmers' Association last year received a US$1.7-million grant from the Inter-American Development Bank to set up micro-factories that produce chocolate bars and balls. French however has gone a step further to produce spa products.

Cocoa earns the island some US$1 million in exports annually. Exports are up in recent years based on deals with global chocolate giant Hershey Company which started in 2011. Currently, coffee farmers are earning record payouts based on an islandwide shortage of beans that is driving up prices.

"Both are two wonderful products and both, flagship products. There is a world demand for these products and both have great potential. I think it's really good and we work with a network of farmers that we encourage. I don't think we can ever meet the demand given the potential demand based on the landsize of Jamaica," said French.

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