Chocolate Purveyors is a blog series where we connect and discuss everything chocolate with both makers and enthusiasts. This discussion is with Samuel Maruta from Marou Faiseurs de Chocolat.
When I was first introduced to craft chocolate, one of the early chocolate bars I tasted was Marou's Dak Lak 70%, the bar instantly became one of my favorites and can be found in my stash at all times.
After tasting the bar, I read about Marou's origins and was intrigued. Not many chocolate makers use Vietnamese cacao and there is even fewer Vietnamese bean to bar chocolate makers. I reached out to Samuel and was ecstatic when he accepted to participate in our interview.
Do you remember your first experience with real chocolate? What was it?
I’m not sure what real chocolate is, but like almost everybody, I have childhood memories linked to chocolate. One of them is about a large Easter chocolate bell that I found so beautiful that I refused to touch it. It stayed in a cupboard for many years, never eaten...
What was the spark that made you and Vincent search the Vietnamese countryside for cacao and start a chocolate company?
I think curiosity started it: knowing that there was cacao out there, that it was some kind of well-kept secret… and then making a bet that we could select good cacao and learn how to make good chocolate with it.
Since you started Marou, have you seen any changes in the Vietnamese chocolate scene?
Yes, tremendous change. The ’scene’ barely existed when we started: I wouldn't say there was no-one but just a few corporate players such as Grand Place (now part of the Puratos group) or Mars and Cargill on the cacao commodity buying side and the odd Vietnamese company. Now there’s probably ten bean-to-bar makers of varying size that have followed our lead.
In the beginning, did you have a moment where you thought this chocolate thing isn’t going to work? What made you overcome it?
We came close to the ground but we never crashed. Reaction to the product was always great. In the early days, cash flow was a bit more difficult but we always managed to pay our suppliers and our employees if not ourselves...
What relationship does the design of packaging have with craft chocolate?
It doesn’t matter how good your chocolate is, if the packaging does not entice, it’s unlikely to sell successfully. Unless you’re specifically selling something else which may have a distant relation with craft chocolate like a good cause or a cheap price, but even then good packaging would help with those goals. There’s really no excuse for bad packaging!
What have you found to be the biggest challenge in making chocolate in Vietnam?
The cacao supply. It’s not easy trying to find cacao when the market is so small to begin with (we’re talking about less than 0.1% of world production), and not growing.
What have you found to be the biggest reward in making chocolate in Vietnam?
Being a trailblazer is always exciting. I like to think that we somehow put Vietnam on the map for chocolate in a way that wouldn't have been the same without Marou.
What separates Marou from other chocolate makers?
It very much depends on what ‘other makers’ you are considering. We very much feel part of the international Bean-to-Bar movement that started around 10 years ago and have great respect and friendship for other brands like Dandelion in the US and many other chocolate makers and cacao suppliers that we meet regularly at chocolate events around the world. We also have great relations with French chocolate makers like Bonnat who have honed their art and passed down a tradition of quality through generations, it’s a humbling experience to meet them.
If you could only eat one chocolate bar for the rest of your life, what bar would it be?
Not sure but I would probably keep it in a cupboard without touching it… like I did with that Easter chocolate bell when I was a child.
What does the future hold for Marou Chocolate?
We’re really interested in the sustainability of the business, and that means the sustainability of cacao supply in Vietnam, so we’re really putting a lot of resources into long term projects like our Madagui agroforestry farm. A lot of the stuff that we do is kind of invisible, like the submerged parts of an iceberg, we can’t explain everything on the back of our bars, so we publish annual reports like this: https://marouchocolate.com/reports/
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