Hawaii’s Vertically Integrated Small Businesses

Here are three Hawaii small businesses that do it all

(page 2 of 3)

Cacao pods grow on trees (above) and when split
open, they reveal the cacao beans covered in
white mucilage. 
Photo: courtesy Produce to Product inc.

“Passion for what we do”

Original Hawaiian Chocolate

Local companies have been selling chocolate for many years, using imported chocolate to make their products. But just a few small companies use only Hawaiian-grown chocolate to make their products.

Bob and Pam Cooper, owners of Original Hawaiian Chocolate, grow their own cacao trees in Kona on the slope of Hualalai. They add in cacao beans from other local farmers, then process it to make truly local chocolate.

They bought the land in 1997 and made their first chocolate bar in 2000. Since then, they have been gradually increasing production and sales.

Photo: courtesy Produce to Product inc.

“There were cacao trees everywhere in Kona in the early 1900s, but no one before us ever decided to take the bean to the finished product,” says Bob Cooper.

Cacao pods grow on the branches and trunks of the trees and ripen after five months. The pods turn from green to yellow to maroon and red, signifying that they are ready to be cut.

The Coopers say they grow only forastero trees, which produce 80 to 85 percent of the world’s chocolate. Less hardy and therefore more rare are criollo trees, and the Coopers buy raw criollo beans from other local farmers. They are also collecting beans from the third tree in the cacao family, trinitario, a cross-pollination of forastero and criollo trees, but they don’t yet have enough of those beans for production.

Every two weeks, Cooper and an employee cut pods from the trees and pull out by hand the 30 to 40 cocoa beans in each pod. At this stage, the beans are still covered in white mucilage, so that is sweated off the beans, which takes six to eight days for forastero beans, and four days for criollo.

The beans are then placed in slatted boxes of untreated wood to ferment and dry in the Hawaiian sun for 22 to 28 days. Using a moisture analyzer, they ensure they get the beans’ 50-percent moisture down to 7 percent. Once dried, the beans can be stored for years, but most are immediately cleaned, roasted, winnowed, conched and transformed into chocolate.

Beans are dried in the sun on racks before.
Photo: courtesy Produce to Product inc.

For roasting, some big operations use a $3 million roaster, but the humble Coopers use a coffee roaster that they say works just as well. To turn the cleaned and roasted beans into smooth chocolate, the Coopers use a conching and refining machine equipped with 36 carbon steel blades. That process takes 18 hours to turn the chocolate into a liquid, and another 16 hours to mix in other ingredients. Then the bars are cooled and hardened for two-and-a-half hours. All in all, from the ground to the bar, it takes six months to make chocolate.

Pam Cooper does the bookkeeping and a couple of employees help package and sell the chocolate in their store and on the web. “We multitask here all the time,” Bob Cooper says. “It’s kind of a hectic thing to have to do, but that’s what makes us very different. We have a passion for what we do and we believe in what we do.”

The Coopers have been patient farmers and entrepreneurs. They made their first chocolate bar in 2000, but didn’t turn a dime in profit until seven years later. Last year, they made 10,000 pounds of chocolate and $250,000 in profit.

Eventually, as the company continues to grow, the Coopers plan to give 10 percent of their net income to Hawaii cacao farmers. “We haven’t reached that point yet but we hope sometime in the future to do that,” Bob Cooper says.

The chocolate is liquified so other
ingredients can be added.
Photo: courtesy Produce to Product inc.

The Coopers are committed to their philosophy of buying beans only grown in Hawaiian soil. “If there are no Hawaiian beans to make chocolate, we don’t make chocolate. And it may be self-restraining, but it’s our choice to do that,” Cooper says.

“Our mission in life is to keep it Hawaiian.”

78-6772 makenawai street
(808) 322-2626



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