Óbolo Chocolate: A regional integration success story
“Chile’s first bean to bar chocolate.” That’s the description of Óbolo Chocolate, the first brand in Chile to develop a chocolate bar from cacao beans. Óbolo founder Mark Gerrits, who is also one of the entrepreneurs participating in the APEC 2019 initiative ‘Chilean Villages,’ explains how he started this project, reached the exportation stage and positioned Óbolo as one of the best chocolates in the world.
US-born sociologist Mark Gerrits came to Latin America 25 years ago to travel through Argentina, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador. While working with indigenous communities in the Ecuadorian rainforest he learned about the origin of the cacao bean.
“When I launched Óbolo, I knew that I would need good quality cacao that also had a positive social and environmental impact. I found a good cacao producer while I was working in Peru. We developed a working relationship and learned how to export cacao beans from Peru to Chile together”, Mark explains.
Óbolo has been importing cacao beans from Peru for five years. Its main goal is still to manufacture world-class Chilean chocolate.
The process of creating the Óbolo chocolate bar is a model of regional integration and productive linking. “APEC and Óbolo Chocolate share a very interesting connection. In fact, we believe that we are an excellent example of APEC collaboration. We work with Peruvian cacao, make the chocolate here in Chile and then export it to APEC economies such as Canada and New Zealand,” explains the founder of Óbolo.
Mark’s enterprise highlights the efforts that Latin American economies are making to join Global Value Chains (GVC).
“I work directly with producers in Peru and travel to the rainforest to take part in the harvest, fermentation and drying of the beans. That process is key for the quality of the chocolate. Once the beans are imported to Chile, we turn the cacao bean into chocolate bars in our workshop”, Mark says.
Óbolo Chocolate is an example of the development of intraregional trade, which also drives the continent’s participation in the international context.
Over the past few years, Óbolo Chocolate has gained international renown. For example, the company won one gold medal and two silver medals at the Academy Chocolate Awards, the most important chocolate competition in the world.
“This is a super dynamic undertaking. We never dreamed of exporting our chocolate, but APEC is an incredible showcase. We took part in the first APEC meeting in March and they invited us to be part of the 'Chilean Village. That is a very important opportunity to have contact with all of the members of the APEC economies”, Mark explains.
All of this has allowed him to reach other markets and garner interest from importers in Singapore, Norway and Brazil. Mark currently exports his chocolates to Canada and New Zealand, but he already has new market destinations in mind for the remainder of this year.