Case Study 

Solutions in practice 

By Cassandra Johnson
Building infrastructure in Haiti with chocolate

Building infrastructure in Haiti with chocolate

Growing up in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Corrine Joachim Sanon never thought that making chocolate could help alleviate the many issues plaguing her country, including poverty.

The middle-class Haitian left her country as a teen, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in industrial and operations engineering from the University of Michigan and an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania. She got married – and then decided to head home to make an impact in her native land.

Tempering machines create the smooth and glossy finish before chocolate is molded.In October 2014, Sanon started researching crops like mango, orange and limes to determine which had the greatest export potential. When she got to cocoa, she realized that Haitian cocoa was among the top 50 in the world and was mostly exported "as is" to France for high-end chocolatiers to transform into sweet confections. "I thought, why not transform it to chocolate bars in Haiti?" Sanon said.

When Sanon started, she knew this was the way in which she could impact her community. In addition to transforming local crops, she wanted to build a business where the labor needed would create jobs for the less educated, since the country has a 40 percent underemployment rate, largely due to a lack of agricultural work. She also wanted to create greater opportunities for others outside of the capital of Port-au-Prince, where most of the country's commerce takes place.

Using her IE and business background, Sanon set out to build a production team in the most efficient and cost-effective manner. She partnered with a Haitian cooperative for farmers called Federation of Northern Haiti Cacao Growers Cooperative, or FECCANO, where she sourced certified organic, fermented and dried cocoa beans, and hired a chocolatier to train her team. They then set up small factory operations in her grandparent's summer home in Ouanaminthe, a city in the northeast of Haiti (six hours away from Port-au-Prince on bus), on the border with the Dominican Republic. After about eight months, the Askanya chocolate company was born, and the company had a bar on a shelf in a store by May 2015.

The name originates from Sanon's husband, Andreas Symietz, and his German hometown of Aschersleben. The name translates to "Ascania" in Latin, which is connected to the ancient Roman figure Ascanius – a legendary mythological king. "We want Askanya to become the big queen of chocolate in her new Caribbean home," Sanon said.

Sanon explained that the biggest hurdle her team tackled in setting up operations was power supply. In Ouanaminthe the power does not stay on for longer than six hours a day and sometimes not at all. The chocolate is produced using simple, natural ingredients, including milk, cocoa, sugar and butter, some of which requires refrigeration. Since the final shelf product has no preservatives and a shelf life of one year, refrigeration is not necessary. The production process includes a machine-refining stage that can take up to 72 hours to create its smooth, glossy texture. Sanon uses a generator system to power the refrigerators and runs them on specific days to save gas costs. The work is organized so that the tasks requiring electricity are done on certain days. Tasks that do not require electric energy – bean sorting, shell removal and packaging – fill the rest of employee hours.

After setting up initial operations, the next three years were dedicated to optimization and continuous improvement. The first year the rate of output was slow. Sanon only used a half ton of cocoa, and all manual processes were done by hand. She then added a second tempering machine and ran them simultaneously, doubling her output without adding employees. By 2016 she was using 1½ tons of cocoa and is currently processing almost 2 tons.

The Askanya team works together in an assembly line fashion to package the bars.She also researches new tools to improve ergonomics as part of her continuous improvement efforts. Employees crack beans using a manual tool with a turning mechanism and sort beans by hand, which takes hours and multiple employees working at one time. She is now in the process of incorporating a motorized mechanism for the cracking machine and a new machine for the sorting process to reduce process time from hours to minutes. In addition to working with thousands of farmers, Sanon employs seven factory workers, one manager and an assistant. Her workers are getting a chance to become part of the working and middle classes. She hopes that business expansion will create more opportunities for farmers and workers.

"Our employees are mostly women, ages 19 to 33, and this is their first steady job," Sanon said. "In order to make more of an impact and have more flavors, we want to produce more… and become more vertically integrated.

"Right now, I buy the cocoa through (FECCANO) and they sell to other French companies, so sometimes they may not have enough cocoa in stock," she said.

As a backup, Sanon and her team started fermenting and drying their own cocoa this year, which is the process that cultivates the aromas of the chocolate. She said her team has the potential to process up to 20 tons of cocoa, and they hope to process up to 80 tons in the future.

Sanon said Haitian cocoa is highly ranked in the international cacao market, but less than ten chocolatiers worldwide offer Haitian chocolate, mostly due to a low amount of quality, export-ready material. On average, a regular chocolatier may use up to 50 tons of cocoa per year. If the normal output of cocoa from Haiti is 150 tons per year, it means only a few chocolatiers have access.

"So, with me starting to integrate it helps me to not only have raw material in case my current provider cannot provide product, but it could also create revenue opportunities for more cocoa farmers and potentially for other chocolatiers to offer single-origin bars from Haiti," she said.

Sanon currently is the only single-origin batch producer of chocolate bars from Haiti. Askanya chocolate is sold in boutique and high-end grocery stores in the United States, in hotels in Haiti and is available online.

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