Trade for Development Centre is a programme of Enabel, the Belgian development agency.

The artisanal chocolate maker with a chocolate story of its own

Once upon a time, there was a small, traditional chocolate factory called Coup de Chocolat that told a singular story about chocolate, a story in which this delicacy is savoured like a fine wine, a story in which cocoa travels by sail, a story in which the leading roles are for cocoa farmers and nature.

A passionate couple started Coup de Chocolat in 2016 in Antwerp. In 2022, its current owner, Caroline Huyghe, took over, with the aim to give chocolate its letters of nobility (back) and have people enjoy the product like a fine wine, which reflects the terroir of its cocoa as much as the stories of those who grew it. To achieve this, the company opted for a transparent supply chain, shaping its chocolates from the bean, and in small quantities.

‘It was also a way of thumbing our nose at the big companies, to show them that it is possible to go about completely differently and produce delightful chocolate, while striving to do things as well as possible socially, ecologically and economically at every stage of the value chain’, explains Caroline Huyghe. “We wanted to tell a different story about chocolate and help people discover what it really tastes like, because my chocolates are simply nothing like their conventional counterparts.‘

A single intermediary

To find the cocoa beans it needed to fulfil its ambitions, Coup de Chocolat turned to Colombia. ‘We buy our beans directly there, in three different regions, via a single intermediary between us and the cocoa farmers, who produce exclusive forest cocoa that has nothing to do with that used by the industry. For us, the flavour of the beans is paramount. That is why we are looking for beans with a complex and surprising flavour’, continues the owner and chocolatier, who notes in passing that other companies in the sector would do well to draw inspiration from the model, which limits the number of intermediaries, who usually take their share of the proceeds that can otherwise go to the producers.

It has to be said that Caroline Huyghe knows what she is talking about. She has worked in development for a long time, particularly with Rikolto, an NGO active in the agricultural sector. ‘Having worked in the cocoa value chain, I am well aware of how things work for smallholders. This is what led us to opt for the most transparent sourcing possible, which in our case is not very complicated as we only have one intermediary.‘ He is a cocoa aficionado who runs an impact business in Colombia. He aims to have a triple impact: economically, by generating a decent income through the sale of a better quality product thanks to good agricultural and post-harvest processes; ecologically, by focusing on regenerative farming practices; and socially, by creating pride in the cocoa trade, as well as ensuring care for and sustainability of local plantations. He then buys the cocoa produced at a fair price, around four times the world market price, and uses it to make his own chocolate or resell it to third parties. In our case, he is also fermenting and roasting the beans, two crucial phases for obtaining the richest flavours.’

Sailing from Santa Marta to Antwerp

Coup de Chocolat’s cocoa leaves the port of Santa Marta in Colombia in the form of ‘nibs’, i.e. small pieces of ground cocoa beans, to cross the Atlantic on board a venerable sailing cargo ship, the schooner De Gallant, chartered by the Dutch company Fairtransport and bound for Amsterdam. There, the cargo is transferred aboard Caroline Huyghe and her husband’s own pleasure yacht, which finally sets sail for Antwerp. ‘Admittedly, transport only accounts for an average of 10% of CO2 emissions throughout the value chain of an agricultural product, but it is still significant if we can reduce this component. Particularly considering that the final price by sail is only slightly higher than that of conventional cargo transport. It just requires a little more effort to set up the system and flexibility in terms of the delivery dates. But in return, it adds to the storytelling of the product. At Coup de Chocolat we do not see cocoa as a raw material, but as a precious one, and this must be reflected at every stage of the process.‘ For the moment, the small chocolate maker imports 500 kilos of cocoa once a year in this way, enough to cover its annual needs and produce around 15,000 bars of chocolate. The company’s ambition is to increase these volumes as it grows, a growth that should include Brazil, a first step towards sourcing cocoa from a variety of origins.

 ‘Labels do not go far enough’

While Coup de Chocolat’s CEO plans to work on reducing the climate impact of other stages of production, she emphasises that the biggest CO2 emitter is still agriculture in the producing countries. ‘That is why we only want to work with people who support environment-friendly practices’, says Caroline Huyghe. However, the chocolate maker’s bars do not bear an organic farming logo. ‘Mind, the cocoa we use is organic, but we may not display the label because our intermediary does not yet have certification to resell the beans. However, this should change with our next delivery, due by next summer. » Once the logo can be applied, it will certainly be a boost for Coup de Chocolat’, continues the chocolatier, ‘but certainly not an end in itself.‘ You can have all the standards you want, organic, Fairtrade… none of them go far enough anyway. Quite simply because these are good initiatives in a bad system that will always focus on very large volumes, with no real concern for quality since the industry will add a lot of sugar and other ingredients. Combine that with the search for the lowest possible prices for raw materials in order to make the highest profits. And you have the big problem with the whole system. This makes that cocoa farmers are not paid properly, leading to the scourges of child labour, deforestation, monoculture, pesticide abuse, soil impoverishment and so on. Faced with this, consumers have the power to say ‘stop’ by asking and asking themselves, why it is always necessary to favour quantity over quality of chocolate…‘

Finally, Caroline Huyghe also draws attention to the double effect of standards. ‘On the one hand, they are positive because they raise consumers’ awareness and encourage manufacturers to raise the bar. But on the other hand, labels also make it harder for consumers to know what they are really buying. They make consumers feel good about something that is not necessarily good for their health, the planet or the producers. At Coup de Chocolat, we try to counter this by producing chocolates with a story that can be enjoyed with a clear conscience.‘

– Interview by Anthony Planus for Enabel’s Trade for Development Centre
– Photos: copyyright: Coup de chocolat



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