Mount Pleasant chocolate maker adds equipment, preps for exports
Chocolatiers Hellen and Averell French of Mount Pleasant Farm expect to boost production by 75 per cent with new equipment commissioned at the end of May.
The company has also taken aim at the United Kingdom, Canada and Japan to begin exports by mid-July, Averell told Wednesday Business. They also want to boost sales in Jamaica.
With strong interest from some of “the big retail outlets in Europe after participating last year in the Caribbean Expo held annually in Germany”, Mount Pleasant is now aggressively targeting duty-free shops, hotels and other outlets in those markets, according to the Branson Centre, a training incubator that has helped to propel the husband-and-wife team behind the small chocolate business.
“We’ve not been exporting much. We wanted to have a presence in the domestic market first and get market feedback, which has been very good,” said Averell.
Previously, supplies to overseas customers were based on special request.
“We sent chocolates abroad but not in a consistent amount and we didn’t want to do that until we had the capacity to support that demand,” he said.
With some 80 acres of cocoa under cultivation, the Frenches are also steadily increasing farm output with “more trees going into production every year”, Averell said.
Production is also boosted by contract farmers who supply the factory with cocoa beans as raw material.
Last year, the couple won top prize in the Made of More Entrepreneurs Challenge offered through the Branson Centre’s loan initiative with partners, Arthur Guinness Project.
They were awarded a low-interest loan of US$40,000 plus the Arthur Guinness Social Entrepreneurship Grant for US$10,000. This is the source of funding for the new equipment.
Mount Pleasant Farm was also awarded $2.5 million in grant funding under the Development Bank of Jamaica’s IGNITE programme.
Mount Pleasant produces roughly 5,000 bars of chocolate monthly.
Based on the projected 75 per cent increase in capacity, the new equipment should boost output to some 8,750 bars.
NOT JUST CHOCOLATE BARS
However, the company’s portfolio extends beyond chocolate bars.
The chocolate maker supplies supermarkets, hotels on the north coast, cosmetics manufacturers and chefs with its slate of cocoa powder, chocolate sauce, cocoa butter and about 11 categories of chocolate bars such as sea salt, chilli, jerk, almond and cinnamon.
The products are currently available through Loshusan supermarket, Liguanea Food and Drug, the Coconut Industry Board, Uncorked and The Wine Shop. Mount Pleasant has two bases of operation — Bull Bay in St Thomas, where the chocolate and cocoa products are produced; and the Blue Mountains, where the farm is located.
“We are (also) coffee farmers,” Averell said.
“I see us outgrowing our current facility so eventually we hope to be doing the entire process on the farm where the transport to move the material will be shorter and it will be much more convenient,” he said.
The company plans to expand its portfolio of products, but Averell declined to say more at this time.