News / Asia

Frenchmen Use History to Sell Vietnamese Chocolate

A cocoa farmer and some of her crop in southern Vietnam. (V. Marou)A cocoa farmer and some of her crop in southern Vietnam. (V. Marou)
x
A cocoa farmer and some of her crop in southern Vietnam. (V. Marou)
A cocoa farmer and some of her crop in southern Vietnam. (V. Marou)
Marianne Brown
— Vietnam's cocoa industry remains in its infancy despite efforts over the last century by various foreign powers to make it a cash crop. Two Frenchmen are using their country's colonial history, however, to try to make Vietnamese chocolate the latest culinary trend.

Cocoa farming is not well developed in Vietnam. Last year the country produced about 5,000 tons of the crop. In Indonesia, the world’s third largest producer, that number was 500,000 tons.

Most cocoa beans harvested in Vietnam are sent abroad to be processed into cocoa powder. The beans are not known for high quality. However, the work of Vincent Mourou and Samuel Maruta is helping to change that. They are the owners of Marou, a brand that sells single-origin artisanal chocolate from Vietnam, something they say is a world first.

Vincent Mourou, co-owner of Marou, poses by bags of cocoa beans in southern Vietnam. (V. Marou)Vincent Mourou, co-owner of Marou, poses by bags of cocoa beans in southern Vietnam. (V. Marou)
x
Vincent Mourou, co-owner of Marou, poses by bags of cocoa beans in southern Vietnam. (V. Marou)
Vincent Mourou, co-owner of Marou, poses by bags of cocoa beans in southern Vietnam. (V. Marou)
Marou began in 2011 and processes between 10 tons and 20 tons of beans per year. These are collected from surrounding provinces and are processed in their own small-scale chocolate factory on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City.

“We work with farmers in five provinces, and we tend to go see each farmer once a month. In some provinces we work with several farmers, and some provinces we work with only one farmer, so depending on that,” said Maruta. The brand already has received a lot of attention in France, where much has been made of the colonial connection.

The French introduced cocoa to Vietnam in the late 19th century at the height of colonial rule. The trees were grown for about 20 years, but the production plan was not a success. Maruta said he found evidence of this in the national archives in France.

“It’s the decree from 1907 talking about the subsidies for the cocoa farmers saying it was completely useless, let’s scrap the subsidies,” he said.

The next introduction was in the 1980s when Russia offered to help Vietnam plant cocoa and sell the beans. That enterprise ended with the fall of the Soviet Union just over 20 years ago, though, and nearly all the trees were cut down.

Most of today’s cocoa trees were planted around a decade ago as part of donor-funded projects to supplement farmers’ incomes and combat deforestation.

Cocoa growers do not make much money, said Marou’s sourcing manager, Do Tan Hoa. He said cocoa is grown on mixed coffee/cocoa farms to supplement incomes, but that growing coffee is a lot more lucrative. He said that because Maruta and Mourou handpick the beans, they pay farmers a higher price, usually about $2.50 per kilo. By contrast, large companies pay 20 percent to 40 percent less. He added that Marou is still a small business and does not collect from each farmer regularly.

The slick packaging and distinctive flavor of the bars are proving to be a big hit with retailers in Europe, the U.S., Australia and Singapore.

Although the French connection is interesting for Europeans, Thibault Souchon, Food and Beverage Manager at the Metropole hotel in Hanoi, said not everyone is enamored with this part of the story.

“From a marketing point of view maybe, a lot of French TV, I think it’s interesting for the public going back to the roots, you can build a beautiful story through it, but from my perspective, French are French, it’s not important,” said Souchon.

He said in Europe many consumers consider luxury food products from countries like Vietnam to be exotic and glamorous. In developed countries closer to home, however, Vietnam is considered a source of cheap, low-quality goods.

As for Vietnam, sourcing manager Do Tan Hoa said his countrymen are not big fans of the dark, bitter chocolate Marou makes. They prefer sweet, milky chocolate.

Souchon, said Marou, is for the refined palate, and you need a bit of education before you can appreciate it. However, with bars selling at around $5 each, not many Vietnamese people will be able to afford the luxury.

You May Like

Reports of Mass Murder on Mediterranean Smuggler’s Boat

Boat sailed from Libya with 750 migrants aboard and arrived in Italy with 569 More

Video New Thailand Hotline Targets Misbehaving Monks

Officials say move aims to restore country’s image of Buddhism, tarnished by recent high profile scandals such as opulent lifestyle, drug and alcohol abuse, as well as child sex abuse More

Study: Dust from Sahara Helped Form Bahama Islands

What does the Sahara have in common with a Caribbean island? Quite a lot, researchers say More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Enuff Warz
April 15, 2013 8:55 PM
lol...seems like the French found a new way to milk th Vietnamese in guise of helping them.....good Lord, do these Frenchies have no shame? No I am not American, I am from Vietnam's neighborhood and if I was a Vietnamese, I would not allow these opportunist users to get near.

In Response

by: Wyr
April 16, 2013 10:47 AM
Does anyone would stop not to put all their eggs in one basket. Or could I say that every Vietnam's neighborhood are not open-minded ?
Best regards, from France.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Astronauts Train in Underwater Labi
X
George Putic
July 25, 2014 7:25 PM
In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid