Del cacao al chocolate. Del Perú a Canadá - Encuentro con Francesca Valdivia, joven peruana y empresaria chocolatera (en inglés)

On Thursday, July 7, the 7th edition of the Cacao and Chocolate Show will open its doors in Lima, Peru. For four days, some 120 exhibitors representing more than 2,500 Peruvian cacao producers and chocolate makers will introduce and promote their products to buyers around the world. Of the 15,000 guests expected, several Quebec chocolate makers will be in attendance.

This delegation of businesses, invited by CECI and WUSC as part of Uniterra’s Partnership Brokers program, will also travel to the San Martin region to visit cacao plantations and meet producers and chocolate makers from whom to source their supplies. Three months after the International Food Exhibition (SIAL) in Montreal, where various Peruvian and Canadian actors in the cacao and chocolate industries first came together, it is hoped that this trade mission results in the sealing of a few business agreements.

Karine Chrétien Guillemette, founder and owner of Montreal chocolate shop La tablette de Miss Choco, is one member of the delegation. Since 2014, she has specialized in the sale of bean-to-bar chocolate bars. Her shop in sells products designed entirely by chocolate makers who oversee quality at every stage of production, from processing the cacao beans to bar production.

At the SIAL, Guillemette was impressed by the products of Francesca Valdivia, a vibrant young Peruvian chocolate-maker and bean-to-bar enthusiast. Guillemette is excited to meet up with Francesca in Lima and go with her to the plantations where the beans she works with are produced. Her plan is to immerse herself in the world of the small-scale producers of northeastern Peru and to learn more about Francesca’s products, which she has been producing now for two years and intends to begin selling soon in Quebec.

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Francesca Valdivia had just graduated from Lima University with a diploma in trade and business administration when she landed her first job at a bank in the capital city of Lima. Soon after, she began working in marketing for a multinational company. At just 22 years old, this young woman had a bright future and a seemingly clear path ahead of her. But in early 2014, at a dinner at her parents’ home, her life took an unexpected turn.

That evening, one of the guests, a friend of the family, told her all about the cacao derivatives exportation process. Intrigued, Francesca was full of questions and, over the evening, learned that her country possessed one of the best cacaos in the world.

Smiling with excitement, Francesca shared her passion: “From that moment on, read voraciously on the topic. I learned that quality chocolate was highly valued in international markets, especially in Europe. Their chocolate is often made with our cacao, which has a variety of rich flavours that are widely recognized and appreciated. It’s true that Peru is a small-scale producer, responsible for barely 1% of the world’s cacao production, but it’s the second largest exporter of organic cacao on the planet!”

Francesca began spending all of her free time at her new Internet centre, which she admits quickly became an “obsession” of hers. When not at work, she researched cacao and buried herself in market studies. On weekends, she would make several trips to and from the Peruvian rainforest, where a number of cacao tree plantations were located. Bit by bit, Francesca learned from the cooperative leaders and small-scale producers of San Martin, who taught her about existing varieties of cacao and the transformation process. In December 2014, just six months after the dinner that would change the course of her life, Francesca Valdivia left her job in order to fully commit herself to her project to, “use Peruvian cacao in Peru to make the best fine chocolate there is – nothing more, nothing less!

The young woman’s confidence was rivaled only by her enthusiasm and business know-how. A few months later, her company Q’uma was founded, its name stemming from qumara, the Aymaran word for healthy. Francesca was quickly awarded a prize in recognition of her efforts to promote high-quality, organic Peruvian cacao in its range of flavours. “Not unlike wine or cheese, fine cacao has distinct flavours telling of its region of origin, the land, etc.” she explained. Valdivia now works in a cooperative with over 200 producers in the San Martin region.

A bean-to-bar chocolate maker, Francesca is involved in every stage of production, from selecting the cacao beans to commercializing her chocolate bars. She makes it a priority to deal directly with the cacao bean farmers and to maintain a strong working relationship with them. “Beyond the need for fair and equitable pay, it is crucial that they learn about the final product,” she explained. “I realized at one point that most small-scale producers have never tasted the chocolate that comes from their own plantations! In doing so, they are able to get more involved in the process and take an interest in the final product.” Each month, more than 300 kilos of cacao are processed in a small centre in Lima, where Francesca outsources her bar production. “I’m doing this until I get my own factory,” added the 24-year-old business woman.

Beyond purely economic considerations (starting an entire cacao processing chain within Peru), Francesca believes that local production of fine chocolate could lead to another benefit – increasing Peruvian interest the product, as most only consume sugary chocolate-based treats. Today, Francesca sells seven varieties of chocolate bars, an offering that she intends to diversify. But beyond that, she is also contemplating the possibility of producing truffles and other chocolates. “No, not for exportation this time, but for weddings and corporate events, for example.” She is currently learning about the trade, and was one of the participants of the workshop in April with Chef Philippe Vancayseele, organized by Uniterra and the Montreal Chocolate Academy.

We don’t think anything can hold this young chocolate maker back from tackling this new challenge!

Text: Carole Duffréchou 

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