The Montano family, one of the biggest names in the local entertainment industry, has added a new entity to its business empire.
Montano's Chocolate Co Ltd (MCCL) has opened a chocolate factory in Arouca, where it now manufactures its chocolate bars — Machel Montano 60 per cent dark chocolate along with cocoa butter, cocoa powder and cocoa nibs.
The chocolate business was launched in 2014 under the Xtatik banner and branded Montano chocolate, in which soca superstar Machel Montano was its brand ambassador and CEO.
The venture into the cocoa industry and chocolate manufacturing came when chocolatier Gillian Goddard approached the Montanos with a business proposal to sell her chocolates at their store in the airport.
Elizabeth “Lady” Montano, in an interview with Business Day, said an opportunity presented itself and they purchased the chocolates for Machel Monday that year, which fell on Valentine’s Day.
“My mind went straying and the idea of having chocolates for Machel Monday came about. We turned it into Happy Nation, because that was the theme that year for Machel Monday. It did well, and we decided to make chocolate and put it in our store at the airport.”
Since its launch, Montano chocolate has undergone several packaging and product changes to reflect its evolving branding concept and suitability for the various markets it operates in.
“In doing market research we found that we needed more colour, we needed to change it, make it more formal. Some years passed again, and we made another change.
“After more research we found that the price point was not commercially viable, so we decided to modify the chocolate bar which is now the Machel Montano 60 per cent dark chocolate.”
Montano said at the beginning of their chocolate venture, their bars were made by Alliance of Rural Communities (ARC) where Goddard was co-founder and co-director, and the Trinitario cocoa, produced by La Reunion Cocoa Estate in Centeno, was used.
Although they have their own manufacturing facility, she said they continued to use Trinitario cocoa from La Reunion because the quality, consistency and taste must be maintained.
The chocolate company has evolved into a family-owned and operated business run by three generations — Winston “Monty” Montano and Elizabeth “Lady” Montano, sons Machel and Marcus along with their wives Renee and Elisha, and six grandchildren, Raylon, Nicholas, Meledi, Malaya, Marley and Micha.
Machel remains its brand ambassador and CEO, while Marcus, a captain pilot with Caribbean Airlines, oversees the operations of the factory. The remaining family members are involved in marketing, promotions, logistics, accounting and other duties of the company.
Music and chocolate are just two of the businesses the family is involved in. “Monty” also created an eco-friendly space called Almond Park in Toco, after his retirement as a geologist in the oilfields in Siparia.
“This is a part of our legacy,” Montano said.
She said in order for the expansion of the chocolate brand, they needed a facility of their own to meet the export needs, but it was a lengthy process to get things in motion and collaborations and partnerships with ministries, ExportTT, ARC, the Cocoa Development Company of TT and others were helpful.
“We decided we wanted to do Montano’s chocolate factory and we started to work again as a family where Machel, Marcus and I took the lead.
“Marcus provided the facility and we had to make financial investments. Along the way we approached the Ministry of Trade and Industry to assist with procuring equipment in a 50-50 partnership.”
Montano added their business model also sought to revitalise the local cocoa industry, assist farmers, entrepreneurs and create jobs.
“We wanted to become more involved in helping to revitalise the cocoa industry and we wanted to diversify, and we wanted to become involved in exporting.
“We decided to expand and to do this, we took the decision to have our own factory, get trained, train our staff, make our chocolates and build on our capacity.”
Through the Machel Montano Foundation for Greatness, she pointed out cocoa producing communities have been provided with the tools, equipment and training needed to make their chocolates and successful business.
Adding that the covid19 pandemic has had negative effects on everyone, Montano said the foundation has been assisting where possible as it did in the past with soft loans to kickstart projects in rural communities.
“Through Machel’s foundation and collaboration with various stakeholders, such as Unicomer and First Citizens’ bank, we able to help some rural cocoa farmers make their own chocolates and start their own businesses.
“We designed it so that when their businesses flourished and they were able to pay back their loans, that money would then be reinvested in another community.”
Communities like Brasso Seco, Grand Riviere, Siparia – from which Siparee Choco-Lit with Daisy Dahlin, a chocolate named after late parang queen Daisy Voisin, was created – Lopinot, Biche and Cushe were all involved in the work they have been doing, she said.
Montano said the addition of the factory in Arouca provides employment for neighbouring communities such as Arima, Maloney, Las Lomas, and Trincity.
“Our focus is also to assist communities and empower individuals to develop sustainable businesses. Our staff is mainly made of young men and women. Our investment is in youth.
“We also want our facility to be able to assist the farmers and alleviate some of their problems such as transport, storage and provide opportunities. We are working with the Cocoa Development Company to identify farmers who need help so we can assist.”
She said because of the closures and restrictions brought on by covid19, it gave them time to fully think through the business model, make investments in training and look for markets to export to.
With their own manufacturing capacities, production has expanded five times moving from 2,500 bags per month to 14,000 bags per month and it has not only grown significantly locally, but has since taken up shelf space in several international markets, such as Canada, the US, Guadeloupe and Martinique.
Montano explained they have also targeted Caricom markets such as Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda with special emphasis on Guyana because of their close relationship with the country.
“Two reasons why Guyana is special to us — it has our biggest fan base, and we use Demerara brown sugar in our products.”
She added that the pandemic has halted entry into the Latin American, European and Asian markets, but they were working on getting the necessary certifications, entry requirements, approval and appropriate packaging for export.
The company was nominated for the TT Chamber of Commerce Entrepreneur of the Year 2021 awards for its role in strengthening the domestic farm to market supply chain, producing cocoa and cocoa products for local industry and niche export market expansions, growth and development of the agro-processing sector and also the revitalisation of the cocoa industry.
In 2020, the 60 per cent dark chocolate vegan was shortlisted for an award by the UK company Design Week in the Packaging: 3D Graphics category.
On November 24, Montano chocolate revealed its new packaging. It was also Machel’s birthday and the start of a series of events in recognition of the family’s 40 years in the entertainment industry.
The chocolate bar is a vegan and 60 per cent dark chocolate and, according to Montano, is full of flavour from aromatic spices, berries and tropical fruits. It is made from Trinitario cocoa beans and ingredients include sun dried cocoa nibs, cocoa butter and Demarara brown sugar. Dairy, nuts, preservatives, emulsifiers and mould inhibitors are not used.
“We are focused on protecting the environment, building our community, raising our youth, sharing our culture and women development, with the aim of opening new avenues for economic growth.
“We are hopeful that Montano’s Chocolate Co Ltd would become world renowned in the industry.”