+ Hi Marika! To begin with, tell us a bit about yourself, where are you from and what is your background?
I’m from the Netherlands, from the province of Brabant. Since about 8 years I live in Amsterdam.
Always been interested in travelling and different cultures, so every opportunity I got for an internship or some kind of project abroad, I took it. I lived in Greece ;), Rwanda, Cameroon and London. I studied Psychology as well as international affairs. After that I did a masters in Conflict Studies and Human rights. After my masters it was time for me to go abroad for a longer time. I took a job in Cameroon working for an NGO and moved there. It was in Cameroon, one of the largest producers of cacao beans, that I got acquainted with the cacao and with farmers. I realised, that this is what I wanted to do. Coming back to the Netherlands I moved to Amsterdam - the largest port for cacao beans in the world - and started to work in the industry as a sustainability consultant for the industry.
+ What is Pacha de Cacao and why is it different from "normal" juice products we find in the supermarkets? In other words, what makes Pacha de Cacao special?
Pacha de Cacao is a juice made from pulp. Most people don’t realise that cacao comes from a fruit tree which grows in tropical countries. If you open the fruit you see the white pulp covering the beans. The industry is only after the beans for making chocolate, and the pulp drains into the ground during fermentation. Unused. The farmers get paid only for the beans (only 20% of the fruit) and live in constant poverty cause the bean prices change every day due to reasons beyond the control of farmers (climate, politics, global macro events like covid-19). Having worked in the industry as a. sustainability advisor, I saw that the pulp could offer opportunities for farmers to become more financially stable. We pay them for a waste product. Alongside the beans, it becomes more profitable. But still we’re far from having achieved what we want there in terms of impact. We’re a small company still and hope to work with many farmers.
Cacao juice is a new type of product, made basically from a by-product of the cacao fruit. The industry buys the beans which are only 20% of the weight of the fruit. With this we try to reduce food waste in the industry. Consumers are always looking for new, natural beverages, free from added sugar or additives, which are good for the world but also for them. Pacha de Cacao has several interesting nutrients and vitamins, such as magnesium (good for muscles), phosphor (repair tissue cells), manganese (good for hair and skin) and vitamin B1 (good for energy). It’s a natural energizer.
+ How did the idea of the juice (and the name!) of Pacha de Cacao come from?
When I was in Ecuador in 2017, I saw a farmer eating the pulp and spit out the beans. I had seen this on more farms, all around the world (also in Cameroon). When I asked why he did that he told me it gave him good energy. I started to change my perspective and look at the pulp (and not the beans) to see the potential of the pulp.
Pacha comes from the Quechua word for ‘soil’ and ‘earth’ and de cacao is Spanish for ‘of cacao’. Together they stand for ‘world of cacao’. We wanted to create a strong link to Pachamama, the female goddess, Mother Earth, who is an important concept in most of the Latin American cultures. We believe that we need to give back to Earth, and we do so by using the cacao pulp and preventing from it being wasted.
+ I have tried the juice and I must say it tastes absolutely delicious. How would you describe the flavour to those reading this post?
Thank you! People are always surprised that it does not taste like chocolate. True, but chocolate is a product in which cacao and other ingredients (sugar/milk) are being processed. It helps to see cacao as a fruit tree, which it is, but instead of let’s say apples, there are cacao pods which have seeds (beans). Actually were eating the seeds now. Also pretty weird right?
So the taste of Pacha is… unique! And fruity! Imagine a pineapple, a pear, a green apple, a citrus and a bunch of lychee fruits, all these flavours together with hints of white flowers, honey and tamarind. A burst of tropical flavour with a tangy twist. The taste of the Amazon, we like to say!
+ Have you faced any difficulties in the beginning of the company’s journey?
Of course. It’s not easy. Not just because my company is a start-up, but my product did not exist yet. I had to figure out everything along the way. The most difficult part was the beginning, in South America where I tried to squeeze a juice from cacao pulp. Luckily when I got deeper into it, I learned I’m not the only one (or the first) trying this. So there were others to help me forward. But really, the journey to this product took 3 years. From idea to product.
Then the difficulties I’m facing now is about how to communicate effectively to consumers about this new product that they don’t yet know about. Luckily, many people that eventually taste it are super enthusiastic. Now the ball needs to roll. The difficulties are plenty, from finding funding for cashflow, to finding good staff, to production and quality. But I don’t see them as obstacles, rather as opportunities to learn! I’ve learned a lot!
+ What are your views on sustainability and how have you achieved this with your product?
There are all kinds of views on sustainability. It’s an interesting time in the cocoa and chocolate world, there are so many things happening. For example, that the plans of the Dutch government together with many companies is that in 2025 only sustainable chocolate will be available in the supermarket. But what is sustainable? Their view, and that of companies is that cocoa needs to be certified. But ever wondered how it can be that a chocolate bar of 1,50 is Fairtrade and organic certified. For that price? Certification does not mean what most people think it means. It means that there has been certain checks and protocols in place, to see that the cocoa was produced under certain circumstances (the criteria differ per certification scheme), but it doesn’t guarantee anything. It also does not guarantee that the farmer got paid a good price, neither does it say it is a good (in terms of quality) chocolate. You see, I can talk about this forever.
For me sustainability is about creating a measurable impact. Often in terms of income, so the farmer needs to profit from it. But it’s also about paying for quality, sharing information so that farmers can grow. I see them as entrepreneurs, not small poor farmers. I just want to help them get better access to markets, get all the information they need, and get a good fair price. Then it’s up to them to use that to grow their business.
+ As a cacao expert, you work as an advisor to the industry as well, by helping them make supply chains more sustainable. What do you think about the role of food design in promoting sustainability in food production?
Super important. Now that I have Pacha I see all the more how crucial it is to communicate an easy story to consumers. Design is one excellent way to do that. When I was working on Pacha I wanted to work with some of the best designers. I knew it would cost me to work with experienced designers - Positivity Branding - but I made the choice anyway. Because I believed in the importance of food design. Especially for such a new product that people don’t yet know. A good packaging is key. Going back to chocolate, there can be two exactly the same chocolates being produced but one with a mediocre packing and the other one with a loud, funky, easy to understand packaging (we have a good example of such a brand in the NL ;) Guess which one sells? + What trends do you see happening in the food world within the next 5 years?
Packaging will change a lot, in terms of materials and shapes. We will step away from plastic more and more and look for alternative ways. With so many good new products, it will be all about the experience. You want people to see your product and get an emotional feeling with it. It’s exactly what I wanted for the design with Pacha. Quite literally, my presentation to them was design me something that takes people to the lush amazon. Where the cacao trees grow, and the birds fly around. Even if you have never been to the Amazon, I want people to imagine it through the packaging. Positive, creative, smart designs with ethnic symbolism referring to the Indigenous tribes living in South America. I think they did an amazing job - you?
Thanks to Marika for giving us this interview for Crème zine and sharing with us her interesting journey! Follow the company over on Instagram @pachadecacao & on https://pachadecacao.com