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It's Time the World Noticed Davao Cacao, Believes This Artisanal Chocolate Maker

A farmer couple is helping to promote the quality of Davao-made chocolate to the country and the world.
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Philippine-sourced cacao has slowly been gaining international attention, and that's a good thing. To prepare for a foreseen global shortage in the chocolate supply by 2020, the Philippine government has been pushing to make the country a key producer of cacao, a plant that grows well in our soil and climate.

However, to realize he government’s vision, it’s important to promote and maintain a certain level of quality in the chocolate we produce. This is where chocolatiers like Rosario’s Davao Artisanal Chocolates come into the picture. Owned by couple Emmanuel and Mary Grace Belviz, Rosario’s is a bean-to-bar processor of couverture chocolate that works closely with government agencies to help promote awareness of quality Philippine-made chocolate across the country and the globe.

The Belviz Family, a Family of Farmers

Long before we even heard the news of the world chocolate shoratage, Severino Belviz (Emmanuel’s father) had already planted cacao trees. In 1982, when Emmanuel was only four years old, the family was already producing tableya [a Filipino cacao-based product typically enjoyed as a hot beverage], even consistently delivering to a large supermarket in Davao city.

“The family stopped producing commercial tableya in the early 1990s when the global price of cacao beans plummeted and my father-in-law decided to focus on durian,” says Mary Grace. Severino went on to become one of the most renowned durian farmers in the Davao Region. In 1997, the Department of Agriculture named him the agricultural community’s “Magsasaka-siyentista,” or farmer-scientist, tasked with sharing his knowledge of durian and offering his farm as a model for other farmers.

The family continued to make tableya in the two decades that followed but only to give as gifts to friends. “But in that time, producing chocolate remained a dream for my husband,” shares Mary Grace. After majoring in Horticulture in UP Los Baños, Emmanuel and Mary Grace settled in Davao city to help with the Severino farm, which was composed of 30 hectares of mostly rented land that integrated cacao, durian and mangosteen trees. Now, the two are doing the same thing for cacao as their patriarch did for durian—sharing their knowledge to promote quality across the industry.

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Rosario’s Davao Artisanal Chocolates

Time was on Emmanuel’s side when the Philippine government set the Cacao Challenge, targeting a production level of 100,000 metric tons of dry fermented beans by 2022. So, in 2011, the couple rekindled the family’s cacao processing, producing tableya and chocolate for friends and naming the business after Emmanuel’s mother. Through word of mouth, the demand for their products slowly grew, and the couple decided to commercially process chocolate in 2013. They developed four variants of dark chocolate: 60% cacao, 60% with coffee grounds, 75% and 85%. They also offered tableya and cacao powder. A year after, they started to consign their products with traders and outlets including Cacao City, a component of the local government’s Pasalubong Center dedicated to showing off local chocolates. “Many companies typically come to Cacao City to purchase for corporate gifts. There they can get a free taste of local chocolates. Some companies started to patronize our products and we didn’t even know them personally,” says Mary Grace.

They also started to offer institutional chocolate for a minimum volume in which the client can customize the “darkness” and mold of the chocolate, and they landed clients such as Marco Polo Hotel. By 2017, Rosario’s had become a go-to local chocolatier, prompting them to open a showroom outside their production facility in Calinan, Davao city.

"We have to be wary of the quality. Chocolate making is not easy and should not be treated as a fad.”

Davao Chocolate is Known for Quality

“The beauty of selling chocolates is that there is no substitute for it,” says Mary Grace. “But we have to be wary of the quality. Chocolate making is not easy and should not be treated as a fad.” Their eye for quality cacao beans and their passion for chocolate processing are two reasons the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) constantly taps them for the promotion of good farming and manufacturing practices. They take part in DTI-led trainings, lectures and demonstrations for cacao farmers and entrepreneurs from Davao as well as other provinces such as Tuguegarao and Lanao. The Belviz’s facility is also DOST-certified, making them an ideal training ground for aspiring chocolatiers. “Not all companies open themselves up so that other farmers and chocolate makers can benchmark and learn. But we are open to those who are serious about learning good manufacturing and chocolate processing practices,” says Mary Grace.

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Because of her expertise in chocolate processing, Mary Grace has even recently participated as a judge in a cacao bean competition in Taiwan. “The event invited two chocolate experts from different Asian countries including Korea, Japan and Malaysia to judge the different cacao bean entries. The president of CIDAMI [Cacao Industry Development Association of Mindanao Inc.], Val Turtur, and myself went on behalf of the Philippines, and we spent three days in Taiwan as judges for bean-grading and chocolate processing,” she shares.

Because of their passion for quality chocolate making, Rosario’s has also become a mainstay in international cacao events in which DTI and local cacao associations participate. In October 2017, their product was one of four Davao-made chocolates displayed during the Salon du Chocolat held in Paris, France. The following month their product was also displayed during the Northwest Chocolate Festival held in Seattle, USA. In June 2018, Rosario’s was also one of the Davao products brought to an expo and business-matching event in Tokyo, Japan. During the event, Mary Grace was able to talk to chocolate makers and buyers from different countries about Rosario’s products and the emerging chocolate industry in the Philippines.

Room for Growth

Despite the growing attention for their products, however, Mary Grace says their production level is not yet at its full capacity. “Our business in still small-scale and the size of our facility is just enough to cater to a portion of the demand. Right now, I would say we are still in the R&D stage. It’s more important to ensure quality and enjoy a slow but sure growth than jump into volume production and possibly compromise the quality.”

Maintaining excellent quality is critical to the sustainability of Philippine chocolate, says Mary Grace, as many chocolate users and consumers still rely on imported chocolate to meet their needs. However, she also says the local cacao industry is at a better place now than five years ago. “Much of the improvement in quality farming and processing in the last five years is due to the local and national government’s tremendous support. Davao, especially, is quickly becoming known as the chocolate capital of the country,” she says. Currently, the Davao region is responsible for about 80 percent of the national cacao production.

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Consumers have also become more welcoming of local artisanal chocolates. “Five years ago, many consumers associated “local” with “low quality”. Until today, many people still don’t know that our country makes its own chocolate—top quality chocolate at that. But once they find out, they become really appreciative of how far the cacao industry has come. Now, when they taste our product, and afterwards we tell them it’s locally made and sourced, they become so amazed.” Indeed, the quality of their chocolate not only defines the business of Rosario’s, but also shapes the global perception of Philippine-sourced chocolate.

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Chiara U. Mesiona
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