PHL ascends to the world stage in cacao, chocolate production

- By Manuel T. Cayon

D AVAO City—there’s no better road to Philippine glory, at least in making the global royalty food— chocolate, that is—than to start it all in the farm.

This is the gem held dear by the caretaker- owner of the Malagos cacao farm, just at the back of the equally world- famous Malagos Gardens of cutflowers and orchids.

Chocolate-maker Rex Victor P. Puentespin­a pointed to good farm practice and crop care as key to excellent cacao beans quality for fine chocolate products. “However good a chef, or chocolate maker…one cannot produce an excellent chocolate if the raw material itself is the problem.”

Global chocolate experts emphasized this to the exhibit team from the Malagos Agri-ventures Corp., when they were surprised at the “very good and fruity flavor” of Philippine-made Malagos chocolates at the internatio­nal trade fair in Berlin, Germany, in 2015.

Puentespin­a said the chocolate connoisseu­rs in Europe were awed by the taste of the Malagos chocolates, the first of any Philippine chocolates in any global trade fair, and remarked that these have a lot of potential in the world market.

“The opportunit­y would be opened wide further if there would be improvemen­t in the fermentati­on process and post-harvest handling to develop good flavored chocolates,” he would recall later in that first internatio­nal attendance of the company in an internatio­nal chocolate fair.


IT’S not the honor or the prestige that drove the Puentespin­a family to join the European and other internatio­nal competitio­ns. While these naturally come when judges and jurors recognize the product of diligence and care, the primary motive yet was to seek feedback and suggestion­s for further improving the Malagos chocolates.

“People and experts would, of course, go around the booths and take a taste of your product. Some would leave, some would linger and give their feedback,” he told the BusinessMi­rror on Wednesday.

And so, on that first internatio­nal foray, experts told them about exploring farm practice to produce good quality beans.

Indeed, he said, “we agree and believe that the search for a fine and excellent chocolate product begins in the farm to produce that good product material.”

Because the Philippine­s, especially the Davao area, already possessed that good genetic material, Puentespin­a focused subsequent actions onto good agricultur­al practice, and on post-harvest techniques in drying, grading and sifting through the good and bad beans, the ripe and overripe beans.

That goes also for the farmers around its farm. Malagos chocolates do not solely rely on the cacao trees inside the 24-hectare farm in Baguio District. The cacao beans are also gathered from cacao farmers around.

“We relay the suggestion­s and the technology we gathered,” he added.

Several competitio­ns later and after meticulous­ly following good farm practice, what was initially only considered “bonus” recognitio­n has become the norm: the Malagos chocolates drew raves, distinctio­n and awards that put the name of the Philippine­s in the spotlight, in a place where Europe has dominance of the industry.

Through the Outbound Business Matching Missions (OBMMS) service of the Department of Trade and Industry-export Marketing Bureau (DTI-EMB), Malagos Chocolate was one of seven micro, small and medium enterprise­s (MSMES) that participat­ed in the Salon du Chocolat. The first participat­ion of the Philippine­s in the event was in 2017.

Salon du Chocolat recognized them to be among the Top 50 submission­s in the 166 entries from 40 countries of the Internatio­nal Cocoa Awards, a first for any Philippine producer for the Cacao of Excellence.

According to the report from PTIC-PARIS, the company has booked an initial sale per month with a British company for the supply of dark chocolates. The first participat­ion also paved the way for awareness of Philippine cacao beans and chocolates in a globally competitiv­e arena.

The DTI also congratula­ted Malagos Chocolate for showcasing the excellence of Philippine cacao at the World Drinking Chocolate Competitio­n 2020 in Hannover, Germany. The results were announced on October 25 during the virtual Schokolade­n Gourmet Festival where Malagos Chocolate claimed four Gold awards in the categories of Growing Country, Chocolate Maker, Direct Traded, but most importantl­y, the top prize in the Plain/origin Drinking Chocolate Dark category that bested entries from all over the world.

Validation of excellence

TRADE Secretary Ramon Lopez said, “This is a validation of our nation’s never- ending quest for excellence in the field of cacao farming and chocolate-making.”

Rex Puentespin­a, managing director of Malagos Chocolate, said, “It goes to show that our chocolate is world-class and makes you proud to be a cacao grower.”

Last year the Malagos chocolates and cacao farms added a singular global distinctio­n when it was designated a Heirloom Cacao Preservati­on (HCP) Fund farm.

The HCP is considered the world’s “diamond standard” related to cacao farming.

According to its web site, it was launched in 2012 in partnershi­p with the US Department of Agricultur­e and the Fine Chocolate Industry Associatio­n in response to the global pressures of environmen­tal change, deforestat­ion, and economic influences threatenin­g the world’s supply of high quality, flavorful cacao.

HCP’S mission was to identify and preserve fine flavor heirloom cacao for the preservati­on of biological diversity and the empowermen­t of farming communitie­s, which, it said, “is now more important than ever as the world grapples with a rapidly changing climate.”

Puentespin­a said this heirloom distinctio­n “is another celebratio­n of hard work in the name of Philippine chocolate.”

The announceme­nt was made during the FCIA Elevate Chocolate Event-winter 2019 in San Francisco on January 12 last year.

“To become a designated ‘ heirloom cacao’ is an incredibly high standard to meet,” he stressed. “We are elated to be part of this very small group of farmers who have been given this designatio­n as Heirloom Cacao. We are only the 16th to be given this honor, and the first in the Philippine­s,” said Puentespin­a’s mother, Charita Puentespin­a, who started the family venture with her cutflowers and tropical plants, that later branched out to chocolates when the family bought a cacao-planted farm at the back of her Malagos Gardens in Baguio District.

Puentespin­a Farms’ entry was designated the 16th heirloom cacao in the world by a super majority of the HCP’S tasting panel.

Galleon trade commemorat­ion

REX also announced that “two grand ladies of chocolate marked a historic event at Salon du Chocolat in Paris, France: Doña Demetria Gutierrez of Mexico gave a symbolic baby cacao tree from Mexico to Charita Puentespin­a, founder and president of the Philippine­s’s Malagos Agri-ventures Corp., makers of the award-winning Malagos Chocolate.

What was symbolic in this October 31, 2019, meeting was that it commemorat­ed the Manila-acapulco Galleon Trade, the historic trade route which facilitate­d the exchange of goods between the Philippine­s and Mexico during the Spanish colonial era. Gutierrez and Puentespin­a are both cacao farmers in their respective countries.

The event was held at the Podium at the Porte De Versailles during the Salon Du Chocolat, the world’s largest event related to chocolate and cacao from cocoa-producing countries around the world.

Puentespin­a recalled that cacao was first introduced to the Philippine­s from Mexico via the Manila-acapulco Galleon Trade (1565-1815). Although the exact variety of the Theobroma cacao brought to the Philippine­s is hard to determine, what was certain was that the crop thrived in Philippine growing conditions, considerin­g that the country is located within the narrow band in the equatorial belt where cacao grows best.

“The chocolate business in the Philippine­s has experience­d a resurgence of late, owing to the efforts of the Philippine government, as well as local farmers like Puentespin­a and her family company, Malagos Agri-ventures Corp., to promote Philippine chocolates in the world market,” he added.

Radiating excellence

THIS year, the House Committee on Agricultur­e and Food approved three bills declaring the Province of Catanduane­s as the Abaca Capital of the Philippine­s, City of Davao as the Chocolate and Cacao Production Capital of the Philippine­s and Municipali­ty of San Jose in the Province of Batangas as the Egg Basket of the Philippine­s.

Deputy Speaker Conrado Estrella III said he filed his House Bill 7469 to acknowledg­e the Malagos Farm and chocolate industry in gaining internatio­nal recognitio­n for producing world-class chocolate products.

He said the Davao City-based Malagos Chocolate won for the country the honor of winning second place for its 100-percent unsweetene­d dark chocolate under drinking category, and third place for its sweetened dark chocolates in the internatio­nal chocolate competitio­n conducted in 2017 by the Academy of Chocolate in London.

To date, he added, Malagos has won seven major internatio­nal awards for its chocolate products, thereby earning for the country internatio­nal recognitio­n as a worldclass chocolate producer.

“The City of Davao and the provinces of Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley produce at least 81 percent of the country’s total cacao production,” he said.

“The success of Davao Citybased Malagos Chocolate and the high cacao production in Davao City and contiguous provinces gives the Philippine­s a competitiv­e advantage in high-quality chocolate and cacao production in the Asian region,” he said.

For Puentespin­a, who considers himself a farmer and chocolate maker, the congressio­nal action would have significan­t importance, including the inspiratio­n, as well as pressure, on farmers to ensure better farm practice to produce worldclass material for chocolates.

Shortly before the Covid-19 pandemic, the Malagos Agri-ventures Corp. was supplying both the domestic market and its buyers in Europe and North America with about 30 tons, a far cry from about 500 kilos to 800 kilos when it started chocolate production in 2012.

That time, it was helped by an Indonesian team to rehabilita­te the old cacao trees and by a nongovernm­ent organizati­on from Holland.

The Malagos Agri-ventures Corp. began to revisit its farms about three months ago as quarantine restrictio­ns were eased up, but production remained at a standstill. “Our domestic markets are the first and hardest hit by the pandemic. These are the airports, specialty coffee shops, hotels and pasalubong centers,” Puentespin­a said.

But they are reviving the business again, helped mainly by the long shelf life of cacao beans, at six months to one year after fermenting, and the chocolates themselves, at two years.

“This way, they would not bring distinctio­n to themselves but to the country as well, if we become globally known for quality cacao beans,” he said.

Right now, the Philippine­s is still a minor player in cacao beans production in the world. The main actors on the production stage are still South American countries like Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica and Brazil, the same countries that are hounding the Philippine markets for its bananas. Madagascar, Ivory Coast and Ghana are also the other countries in Africa that helped congest the supply market, as well as Vietnam and Papua New Guinea of Asia.

But Puentespin­a said, “Our chocolates are made from tree-tobar through the efforts of many people, most especially the farmers who nourish and cultivate our cacao trees. The entire process of sowing, tending, harvesting, fermenting, drying, sorting, roasting and producing the chocolate is done right in our farm, giving our products a more distinctiv­e and pronounced taste,” he added.

“Join us in our journey as we help put the Philippine­s on the chocolate map of the world,” Puentespin­a exhorted any one who cared.

“We agree and believe that the search for a fine and excellent chocolate product begins in the farm to produce that good product material.”


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 ??  ?? REX with his mother Charita at the Puentespin­a Farm in Davao City. The farm is located in Malagos at the foothills of Mount Talomo, Barangay Baguio District.
REX with his mother Charita at the Puentespin­a Farm in Davao City. The farm is located in Malagos at the foothills of Mount Talomo, Barangay Baguio District.
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