HO CHI MINH CITY — On the earth of chocolate, one thing has modified within the final decade, as delicate because the cherry aftertaste of a high quality truffle. In London cafes and Tokyo grocers, connoisseurs have been persuaded to purchase new bars from Vietnam, a communist nation higher recognized for espresso and rice exports.
And few have accomplished as a lot to showcase the nation’s cacao bona fides as Marou. The chocolate maker has taken a journey befitting a Silicon Valley upstart, replete with quests by bike, house kitchen hacking, and worldwide awards.
Marou was based in 2011 by a pair of French buddies, who went from plucking pods out of the Vietnamese countryside for experimentation, to delivery chocolate bars wrapped in luminous colours to 32 international locations.
Now, with one decade below its belt, Marou is seeking to the subsequent one. It goals to multiply its community of smallholder farms fivefold. From Shanghai to Singapore, it plans to go abroad with Maison Marou, a chocolatier the place prospects maintain enterprise conferences over mocha, or watch an industrial-grade roaster swivel trinitario beans. And the corporate, which final week received a brand new spherical of funding from Mekong Capital, will use the undisclosed sum to attempt to win over a brand new demographic: native customers.
“Vietnamese like chocolate, however they actually see it as a flavoring, like on a cake or a Choco Pie,” co-founder Vincent Mourou mentioned in an interview at a Maison Marou cafe.
He and his Japanese-French co-founder, the late Sam Maruta, did one thing that hadn’t actually been accomplished earlier than, extracting a bean that wasn’t a lot of a precedence in Vietnam, and convincing foreigners to pay gourmand costs for the artisanal product. However for locals, the obstacles are worth and palate.
In a rustic the place set meals typically finish with a plate of guava or pomelo, 78% darkish generally is a bitter change. And for, say, a nurse consuming $2 pho at lunch, a $5 chocolate bar is an even bigger ask.
Marou will market so co la to Vietnamese with sweeter concoctions, tasting lessons, pop-up patisseries, and farm excursions. That features a new lineup for the autumn: smaller bars, with nuts or fruit. Later, the corporate will distribute a wider array of chocolate-adjacent confections, although its cafes already promote macaroons, brownie combine, and dozens of different objects past sweet and drinks.
These cafes will make their debut overseas after the pandemic, Mourou mentioned, naming Japan and Hong Kong as early markets.
“I’ve individuals knocking on our door to associate,” Mourou mentioned, seated at a window nook whereas bushes billowed and motorbikes flitted behind him.
He gestured across the Maison Marou, a burst of colours from the sunglow footballs of cacao (for show) to the branded straws and board video games (on the market). In between bites of eclair, diners watched the roaster whir and the staff carve into slabs of single-origin chocolate. As Mourou put it, “Every store is definitely a minifactory of its personal.”
Vietnam is on no account a chocolate powerhouse. Belgian and Swiss chocolatiers are usually not below menace, and West Africa nonetheless dominates sourcing. Ghana exported $1.8 billion of cocoa in 2019, versus Vietnam’s $5.3 million, in keeping with UN Comtrade. Nonetheless that’s double what it exported in 2009, and since its business is much less entrenched, Vietnam could have a gap.
The U.S. Supreme Courtroom is listening to a lawsuit in opposition to chocolate firms accused of utilizing youngster labor in Ivory Coast. Mourou blames such labor issues partly on an unhealthy drive for reasonable cacao, whereas a Vietnamese official says Vietnam can step in with extra responsibly sourced beans.
That extends to the atmosphere. Final week an educational research calculated deforestation attributable to consumption in wealthy nations, discovering a mean of 4 bushes felled a 12 months per client. It linked German chocolate imports, for instance, to the misplaced forests in Ghana and Ivory Coast.
Marou helps develop an agroforestry mission, planting cacao amongst different bushes reasonably than clearing them, in Madagui, 100 km northeast of Ho Chi Minh Metropolis. The mission will admit vacationers when it opens. The corporate can also be searching for farmers for direct partnerships, aiming to cowl 1,000 hectares inside 10 years, about 5 instances the present determine. It provides landowners fermented seeds and coaching, similar to in composting and trimming. Mourou hopes it is going to be the beginning of a greener, extra productive section within the international business.
“Vietnam could be very early to use that,” he mentioned. “Vietnamese farmers are educated, they’re switched on.”
He is an emotive interlocutor, stretching his arms huge when he describes the corporate’s first large buy, a moist grinder, and reminisces concerning the early months with Maruta. Ten years in the past in February, the 2 buddies stood across the black partitions and marble counters of Maruta’s kitchen on the Saigon River. They crushed cacao seeds, toted house from Ba Ria by bike, right into a powder that tasted granular, sturdy and fruity. Within the coming months there’d be extra trials and extra seeds — whisked into 50 iterations of chocolate and saved in a wine fridge — till they created a deal with that will kick off a brand new enterprise.
Since then, Marou has nabbed a number of accolades, together with an Academy of Chocolate Award, and throughout the Southeast Asian nation extra broadly, roughly 20 different chocolate artisans have sprouted up, from Belvie to Vietnam Chocolate Home.
Chocolate is “one thing that actually brings pleasure to individuals, makes individuals completely satisfied,” Mourou mentioned. “It is one of many few issues most individuals can agree on.”