After delving into the local chocolate market and the chocolate makers and chocolatiers behind the bars, bon bons and truffles, the question arose of how our chocolate fared offshore and what the government is doing, if anything at all.
In a chat with Business Day, Minister of Trade and Industry, Paula Gopee-Scoon made it quite clear that cocoa, and more specifically, the products coming out of local cocoa, is of great interest to the ministry.
“When it comes to chocolate and cocoa, what we are interested in is the business aspect of it. The entrepreneurs behind chocolate. We are also keenly interested in the exports and the opportunity to earn foreign exchange from the by-products of cocoa, like chocolate.” Gopee-Scoon says the numbers are good for both cocoa and chocolate. “We are doing more of the value-added now and there are many well-respected entrepreneurs in TT, such as Cocoa Republic, which is run two young men and they have gone global with our chocolate. You can see their product at every supermarket and other places, and at the airport. There is also TT Fine Cocoa Ltd, who have established The Chocolate Box at the Hilton Trinidad. We are interested in all these entrepreneurs. There’s Cocobel, as well as Tobago Estate who actually export the cocoa, and the chocolate is made in Denmark. We are interested in the progress of all the entrepreneurs in this sector, and we think that they have done very well.”
So how well is “well”? “When we look at the export figures, they are good and they are getting better. For instance, in cocoa the Central Statistical Office figures for the last three years (2016-2018) indicate that we have exported $30 million worth of cocoa but the figure for the chocolates is much bigger and that’s why we like the value added products.” Gopee-Scoon revealed that for the same period we exported $235 million in chocolate. “That tells us that something is happening, when you are exporting more of the finished product.”
She also said the ministry is working with various stakeholders to ensure that TT can compete on the international market and an example of this is the introduction of standards in the area of chocolate. “As the Minister with oversight for the TT Bureau of Standards (TTBS), I would like to recognise the role of the TTBS as a critical institution in promoting standards and quality in the production and manufacturing of cocoa.” She said the TTBS has developed two standards, namely TS 646 and TTS 647, pertaining to sampling, specification and quality requirements. These standards are adoptions of international standards and were reviewed for suitability to the local market by key stakeholders including the Cocoa Research Centre, the Cocoa Development Co Ltd of TT, and the cocoa research section of the research division of the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries and others.
The TTBS, having developed these two new standards in partnership with these stakeholders, has assisted in enhancing the quality and competitiveness of our indigenous product. Standards such as these, ensure quality and consistency of products and services. Certification maintains brand image and can provide assurance of quality along the entire value chain from cocoa beans to chocolate bars, thus enhancing the competitiveness of our product.
Gopee-Scoon also spoke about a programme the ministry is assisting, namely the Grant Fund Facility (GFF), which is available to entrepreneurs with small and medium enterprises in the manufacturing and agro-processing industries. They are provided with financial assistance up to 50 per cent for the acquisition of machinery and equipment for their business, up to a maximum of $250,000. The GFF is complemented by the research and development facility (RDF) managed by the exporTT. The RDF provides tiered funding for innovative ideas in a number of industries including agriculture and agro-processing. Funding is also offered for feasibility studies, product development and commercialisation. “We are assisting via the GFF, which is helping these agro-processors, which is what we categorise these chocolate makers. We help the with the purchase of machinery and equipment, and the idea is again to get people up to scratch in terms of being cocoa and chocolate entrepreneurs.”
Gopee-Scoon explained that all of the ministry’s efforts and collaborations with stakeholders was to encourage innovation in this sector. “People are developing a taste for fine cocoa products and chocolates in TT because of our chocolatiers with these distinctive flavours and the combination of items they are using as they make their chocolates. I had one the other day at The Chocolate Box which had orange peel and that is what we want to see.
"They used rum and many other local flavours. Cocobel as well. They are really being innovative and using our other products and matching and mixing and that’s what we want to see, a unique TT thing and that are proudly made in TT. So this still has far to go but we want to see more chocolatiers out there and I know the Minister of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries is working very closely with the TT Cocoa Research Centre. We also want to make sure that that they are more and more cocoa farmers getting the assistance that they need, because we have to focus on the fact that we have some of the finest cocoa in the world.”