Today we had the incredible opportunity to visit the gourmet chocolate company Sibö. We sat down for a history lesson on the origins, fundamentals, and evolution of chocolate which was accompanied by a tasting. Learning about the invention of chocolate by the natives, and the subsequent spread to Europe after the colonization of Latin America was very fascinating. We also learned about the vast impact of the second world war on chocolate quality, but also its spread. As someone fascinated by many of the Native American cultures before the Spanish conquistadores, it was very amazing to be offered a sample of chocolate the way it would have been consumed by the Mayans and Aztecs. It was sweet, but also spicy and aromatic.
Sibö was just a spectacular company to learn about in general. The founders, historian Julio Fernandez Amón and journalist George Soriano had a vision that would help Costa Rica, so they went to learn the art of chocolate making in Europe and created the company. Their vision was to see more cocoa plants growing in Costa Rica, but there are many reasons for this. First and foremost was sustainability. You see, they wanted to return the country to more of the diverse, completely forested land it once was without losing productivity. In order to do this they thought there should be more cocoa trees, as they require forest and very select conditions to grow. Doing this would proved biological corridors for wildlife and protect biodiversity, while still having a valuable crop to harvest. Further, the company only sources from small cocoa farms all around Costa Rica and had to teach many of them how to harvest and produce the crop the best way.
Additionally, the company hired many women from the nearby town so that they would learn a good skillset, make good money, and not have to travel an hour and a half to their jobs. This increased the number of kids going to school in the area since they had a parent working much closer to home that could raise them and be a part of their lives. Lastly, the company used the waste from the shells to create packaging for the chocolates. This greatly reduced the amount of plastic waste they produced and repurposed a material that would have been unusable previously. In all of these ways, Sibö prioritized sustainability. Many people often just associate “sustainability” with environmentalism and conservatism, but this trip has gone a long way to demonstrate the full definition of the word. Sustainability is also increasing the quality of life and longevity of communities, families, people, wildlife, the environment, and life in general.
This tour also drew many parallels to that of the coffee industry. Sibö was similar to Cafe Brit, for instance, in the way that they took the raw material from farms across Costa Rica and converted it into something gourmet. They also both do tours and export their products. The two companies also produce large varieties of products. In general, it can be argued that chocolate and coffee hold a special relationship. I feel like those who are likely to seek quality coffee would be the same people to seek quality chocolates. The two also pair very nicely, as can be seen by the inventions of the chocolate-covered coffee bean and the mocha.
Sibö does face many challenges, however. For one, it is that they are responsible for trailblazing how chocolate is done in Costa Rica. Previously, the cocoa beans were shipped to Europe, used to make chocolates, and those desserts were shipped back to Costa Rica. By being the first to cut out the middle man, Sibö was able to pay their employees more and create a business that was truly Costa Rican. However, this inspired competition. What’s crazy is that the Sibö founders said it was good! This provides further evidence that this company cares more about the well-being and progress of Costa Rica than making a profit. More than the competition, it is also just overall a difficult process to train new staff in the complex art of chocolate making, as well as teaching farmers how to produce the best beans, and customers how to recognize quality chocolate. I would say, from a marketing perspective, the company is also struggling to break through to new audiences and make a big boom.
There is hope and improvement though! The company just hired a marketing person and has started exporting to North America. Overall, I think I would love to work in the chocolate business, specifically in Sibö. I just am in awe of the quality of the company values, and every single chocolate I tasted made me forget where I was for a second. They were so delectable!
Lastly, from a marketing perspective, it was very interesting to see how effective the storytelling was. By telling a captivating tale of chocolate, letting everyone taste the journey, and then expressing inspiring company values, there wasn’t one of us that didn’t go into that store and blow our money. However, due to the genuine nature of the founders, and the realization our money was going to a good cause – helping Costa Rica, I would be willing to bet that none of us regretted it.