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

    Escalation of Media Crackdown in Turkey Heightens Concerns

    Critics see 'a new dark age' as arrests of journalists, closures of media outlets by Erdogan government mount

    Russia Boasts of Troop Buildup on Flank, Draws Flak

    Russian military moves counter to efforts to de-escalate tensions, State Department says

    Video Iraqis Primed to March on Mosul, Foreign Minister Says

    Iraqi FM Ibrahim al-Jaafari tells VOA the campaign will meet optimistic expectations, even though US officials remain cautious

    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.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora