Many of us are very fortunate to have access to chocolate at our fingertips, or at least at a store near us. We can easily fulfill our desire for this delectable substance whenever the craving arises. During this Christmas season, as well as throughout the year, I hope we will stop and think about the many people involved in the process of getting this tempting delicacy, as well as countless other products, into our hands.
There is an interdependent relationship between cocoa producers and those who process and create chocolate as they are often located in different countries. The import and export process is essential in connecting the two, all the while contributing to the economy by creating a number of jobs.
To learn more about the important role that an importer plays in this process, I connected with Juan Gonzalez who founded The Mexican Arabica Bean Company located in Canada. I hope you find our correspondence to be helpful and educational. I hope you will enjoy learning along with me and find our correspondence to be informative.
KR: The mission and vision of MABCO are truly honorable. What inspired you to create a company to support small producers of coffee and cocoa?
JG: MABCO was born from the idea and the challenge of finding the best quality coffee and cocoa beans, while at the same time trying to help the small coffee and cocoa producers of Mexico and Latin America. By providing a fair price to producers and co-ops the benefits will be felt by small communities that will be able to grow economically and provide a better quality of life for their families. We always visit our small producers and co-op producers in every region to be able to understand and witness all the hard work that takes place in bringing you the best products.
KR: Given that you are located in Canada, how did you establish relationships with the various producers in Mexico and other Latin countries?
JG: We travel all over the world and meet the farmers face to face. It is very important to have a connection and trust in each other and this helps me to promote the farmers and the products.
KR: What sets MABCO apart from other importers?
JG: Personal customer service and understanding what the customer needs, not what you are trying to sell.
KR: What do you look for before you agree to work with a small producer of coffee or cocoa?
JG: The quality of the products, how open minded they are, and if we can have that relationship long term. I am looking for a long term relationship and not just one deal. Also, how easy is the logistics from the country of origin.
KR: What are some of the challenges of being an importer that people are unaware of or that get overlooked?
JG: Being an importer and distributor means you have control of everything, from the sourcing to the distribution. But cacao is not that easy because most farmers are not even educated to read and write. Therefore they can’t deal with all the paperwork to export, which means I have to fill in the gaps in origin.
Indeed I think the word "direct-trade" is not used properly. Most of the chocolate makers just visit the farmers, buy small volumes, and bring back home the cacao beans in a suitcase by themselves or through DHL.
Looking deeply at the craft chocolate market from the source, there are so many points that need clarification and the claim "direct trade" is one of them. Unfortunately, the reality is still far removed from that. The truth is that people/businesses like MABCO are actually connected to farmers and plantations with the necessary export/import experience facing underlying issues of the process by facilitating communication, mobility, and even improving the quality of the products.
Bean-to-bar chocolate makers are mainly small companies that cannot face the expensive steps of the process like dealing with government and certifications. Each one of them uses 100 or 250 kilos of cacao beans for each origin at the best. Plus not everyone offers a huge assortment to the final customers starting from 3 up to 5 single-origin bars (excluding limited edition and inclusion products). In the end, cacao beans are direct-trade but not personally from chocolate makers. But if we talk about tree-to-bar the situation is different.
Another observation should be made about cacao cooperatives and consequential integration. It happens frequently to find obstacles in changing for the better their culture and practices. Also, it is possible to confront crooks and brokers and the general problem of corruption.
I am glad in Honduras I found a safe place to work and people willing to learn and to welcome me. I was the first to import to Canada these beans that have won several awards.
Panchito is MABCO's beloved mascot
KR: What would you like viewers to take away from this interview?
JG: I would like people to look at the hard work we put in and all the risk of capital we put in with every product, and stop looking at us like the bad guys who take advantage of the farmers.
Make sure to take a minute to thank those involved in the import/export process. They have been instrumental in helping to ease the strain that these unusual circumstances have had on everyone around the world by providing us with access to various goods from around the world. A round of applause to Juan and all who are involved in the import/export business! Thank you for all that you do and for helping to make this Christmas a truly special one!
Learn more about Juan and MABCO by going to: https://www.mabco.ca/