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Hotel demand for couverture chocolate on the rise

Hotels have a big appetite for high-quality chocolate products made from the world’s finest cocoa, called couverture, but the group tasked with fostering linkages between the tourism market and local businesses says it’s hard to come by in Jamaica.

As such, their appetite is mainly being satisfied through imports, notwithstanding that Jamaica’s cocoa is among the best in the world.

Director of the Tourism Linkages Network, Carolyn Riley, says the demand for couverture is rising due to trends in gourmet food preparation within the food service industry which incorporates pure chocolate-based cuisines.

Couverture chocolate, which is more expensive, has more sheen than regular chocolate because of its high cocoa butter content, is formulated for easier tempering, and is “perfect for baking” and often used as fillings.

“It is easy to melt and apply to products such as fruit,” Riley said.

The hotels generally procure cocoa bars in white or dark varieties for couverture.

“All-inclusive hotels consume more chocolate than banqueting hotels based on customer profile and food and beverage needs. All-inclusive hotels prepare significantly more desserts, food decorations, and use components such as chocolate ganache or chocolate filling for their menu items,” said Riley.

As to the scope of the demand, the linkages director said two of Jamaica’s largest hotels, Moon Palace and Iberostar – both all-inclusive resorts that provide meals in their vacation packages – utilise between 200 and 320 kilogrammes of couverture on a monthly basis.

Additionally, Senior Executive Chef of Sandals Resorts International, Glenroy Walker, told the Financial Gleaner that both the Sandals and Beaches resort brands “have been using locally grown cocoa in our desserts since January 2019, specifically in dishes offered in our Caf? Blum coffee shop, to help promote the local industry”.

Sandals Resorts Chairman & CEO Adam Stewart is also the chairman of the Tourism Linkages Network, which is a state initiative that falls under the ambit of the Ministry of Tourism.

“The product is used in our Jamaican-influenced chocolate desserts such as the triple chocolate cakes, chocolate cookies” and others, said Walker.

Still, the Jamaica Commodities Regulatory Authority, JACRA, which regulates all trading in cocoa, says it cannot confirm that the local product is in demand by hotels. The authority isn’t denying the demand; but it has no direct way to test it, saying the hotels do not apply to JACRA for import permits for cocoa products.

“If such a demand exists, it would be that the hotels purchase from distributors/retailers,” said Senior Director of the JACRA Cocoa, Coconut & Spices Division, Shanika Newman.

Otherwise, Newman said requests for cocoa powder imports “predominately comes from local manufacturers such as Lasco, the Jamaica Biscuit Company, Seprod”, among many others.

“There are other business that also import chocolate and other cocoa finished products for retail and/or distribution,” she added.

But as to the hotels, their dealings with JACRA is more in the vein of requests for import permits for coconut-related products such as body wash and bar soaps, Newman said.

Local chocolate maker Donna-Kaye Sharpe of Chocollor Chocolate Limited also affirmed the high demand for couverture in the hotels, saying they import a lot of cocoa-based products annually.

“However, the quality and flavour profile are far inferior to products made from local cocoa. There lies the problem, because of that the price of the imports are significantly cheaper than locally produced items and as such makes it difficult to compete,” said Sharpe.

“We only get a chance to supply the hotels when there are supply chain issues impacting the imported cocoa-based product,” she told the Financial Gleaner.

Her lament was echoed by President of the Jamaica Cocoa Farmers Association, Clayton Williams, who says hotels “buy large blocks of couverture, which is half of the market”.

Around two million kilogrammes of cocoa products of all types, valued at around $1.9 billion, are imported annually.

Williams says the inefficiencies in the market continue to hobble local producers, who can’t adequately compete on price against imports. Efforts to bring the government to the table to negotiate a fix have so far been unsuccessful, but efforts continue to reach the new minister in charge of the agriculture portfolio.

“The JCFA has advocated for policy change, but we are hopeful the new minister will be more open towards developing the industry through action,” said Williams. “We have written to the ministry asking for a meeting with the minister with the local chocolate makers we represent but are waiting in vain,” he said.

Nick Davis of One One Cocoa, a cocoa producer from St Ann, says he sells couverture but his market is restaurants in the United States and the United Kingdom.

“These are Michelin-starred places because of the quality and unique flavours of the natural chocolate,” said Davis.

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