Accelerator CBKK invests BRL 1.5 million to scale a business that directly impacts the lives of 3,500 people living in the forest
César de Mendes has always believed that the bitter taste of the advancement of mining and extensive cattle ranching in the Amazon could be contrasted with a species endemic to the region and its best-known product: Amazonian cocoa and chocolate.
It was this belief that led him to found Chocolate De Mendes in 2014. The company produces fine chocolates, always with native cocoa, found in nature or planted in agroforestry systems, which preserve the forest.
De Mendes’ original idea was right: chocolate has received recognition abroad and the success has translated into a direct impact on the lives of 3,500 people, who have begun to have an economic activity that is allied to safeguarding the environment and aid for the conservation of 300,000 hectares of forest.
But they lacked the resources to take the next step.
After some failed attempts to find investment partners, at the end of last year De Mendes finally found a partner with whom “the saint struck”.
The company received an investment of R $ 1.5 million from the impact business accelerator CBKK, which has as one of the investors Marcello Brito, who until the end of the year chaired the Brazilian Agri-food Association (Abag) and is a food engineer training.
The plan calls for CBKK to hold 50% of the company’s capital, but there is no set deadline for this. The accelerator also doesn’t reveal what percentage of De Mendes he currently owns.
The contribution’s goal is to expand the company’s reach both in terms of suppliers – including indigenous peoples and riverside communities rarely affected by economic development – and in opening up new markets.
With multiple cocoa sources, De Mendes expects to go from just over 1.5 tons produced per month (according to this year’s projections) to 5 tons.
Sales, which until last year took place at the Mercado Livre, are now also made on the website itself, which has been reformulated and acquired a new visual identity. And the company is also strengthening contacts with retailers and exporters. A month ago, the first export of bullion to the United States was closed.
One of the company’s ambitious goals is to impact up to 50,000 people, helping to conserve 1 million hectares of forest by 2025. “But this is just a north. Before then, we have to strengthen and improve the structure we already have ”, says Andrea Apponi, COO of CBKK and who is now 100% dedicated to the De Mendes project.
For De Mendes, who defines himself as a “wood chocolatier”, the arrival of the partner-investor will allow him to focus on one of the parts of his job that he likes best: creating new recipes and going into the woods in search of new sources of cocoa. .
“My routine is to go to cities, to villages, to walk in the forest. I go with people in the dense woods, with high boots, machetes, basket and with attentive eyes and ears, ”she says.
In addition to working only with native plants, De Mendes produces “single origin” chocolates. These are bars that contain only one type of cocoa and express the characteristics of the soil and the variety of that raw material.
The most unique is Yanomami-Ye’kwana (69% cocoa), made from an as yet unidentified cocoa variety found in a Yanomami village in Roraima.
Chocolate “has a persistent flavor, notes of almonds and bananas. A truly extraordinary experience ”, says chocolatier De Mendes. No wonder it’s the most expensive bar – 50g is R $ 50.
Finding more variety – or new terroirs – is one of the keys to growth. This idea mixes with another, which implies a question of recognition, according to De Mendes. Cocoa originates from the Amazon, but countries like Belgium and Switzerland are famous.
“Cocoa is an Amazonian treasure, but why don’t we recognize chocolate as Brazilian? Because the industry uses Brazilian fruit to make European chocolate. The ingredients, the way of making and the final product, everything is European ”, says the chocolatier.
De Mendes isn’t the only company looking to create a sustainable business based on Amazonian cocoa. To give two examples, the chocolatier Luisa Abram has a more artisanal model, while Danke by Ernesto Neugebauer was born in search of scale, based on retail sales.
Apponi believes that the remuneration offered to suppliers may be one of the company’s differentials – and not just in the amount paid per kilogram of cocoa.
In collaboration with the Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), the company is developing a training program in regions with indigenous peoples.
“Our collaborators are extremely vulnerable and threatened populations. We want to train these people, especially the younger ones, by proposing cocoa as an alternative to illegal extraction, ”says Apponi.
Another initiative is to have the complete traceability of each bar of chocolate. Using blockchains, the technology behind cryptocurrencies, De Mendes wants the buyer of each bar to have complete information on what he is holding.
“The idea is that he can control the position, who has collected [o fruto] and also see the photo of the cocoa that was used in the bar he is eating.
Apponi also mentions a carbon neutral certificate. Any chocolate sold would be associated with a consumer’s one-day greenhouse gas compensation. The project is being developed with ZCO2, of the AmazonasCoin group.
on the gondola
The demand for these chocolates bean at the bar (from almonds to bars) is on the rise despite the crisis, reports Associação Bean in Bar Brasil (ACCB).
According to a mapping carried out by the institution, together with Sebrae Nacional, there are already at least 147 producers of this type of chocolate in the country, mainly concentrated in Pará and Bahia, and who started their production between 2019 and 2020.
All this effort by De Mendes will be in vain if chocolate lovers don’t know – or can’t find – the company’s products. Distribution and communication are two major goals of CBKK this year.
The company will seek highly sought-after certifications, such as vegan, organic or gluten-free products. According to Apponi, these three seals will distinguish De Mendes from a series of chocolatiers who are already swarming in the North and Bahia region, the country’s main cocoa production center.
In addition to direct internet sales, until the end of the first half of the year, the bars created by the mateiro chocolatier will be available in the Caras do Brasil section of the Grupo Pão de Açúcar markets. Another front is to increase foreign markets beyond the current Japan and the United States.
With so many fronts, one of Apponi’s and the founder’s concerns is to keep the company true to its origins.
At its headquarters, on the shores of the bay of the island of Marajó, Chocolates De Mendes receives cocoa baskets that arrive from all corners of the Amazon, with all types of transport: boat, plane, car and even on foot.
This direct contact with the population living in the Amazon is the company’s raison d’etre and is non-negotiable, says De Mendes. “Of course we want to grow, but that growth cannot come at the expense of distorting our identity.”
“In the medium term, we want to work with more suppliers and thus accumulate more conserved forests,” says Apponi. “This is why this business is so fascinating. To grow, ordinary chocolates cut down forests; we can only climb the activity by preserving the standing forest “.