25 November 2020

Redefining Chocolate

Written by Published in Food

The art of chocolate production can come with a cost to communities and the environment. Sublime talks to Juan Santelices to find out more about Pacari's mission to redefine the cocoa industry and fairly supporting local families of organic farmers.

Sublime: What’s the ethos behind your brand?

Juan Santelices: Pacari Chocolate was created to be the best chocolate in the world and that means that it also is of the highest standard not only in taste but also in ethics and quality. All of our chocolates are 60% cacao content or above and use only organic certified ingredients to ensure that during the growing process, no harm is done to the people or the planet. In addition, to using only natural ingredients they are also free from dairy, gluten, refined sugars, nuts, soy and most importantly palm oil, which again demonstrates the commitment to protecting the environment and natural biodiversity in the Ecuadorian rainforests.

Pacari started with a few families and today the project is working with over 4,000 families who are organic farmers.

The cacao used is native Arriba Nacional and is grown by small organic cacao farmers in the Ecuadorian rainforest. We don’t work with monoculture plantations of cacao, this way we are contributing to the value and keeping the biodiversity of the Ecuadorian rainforest instead of promoting the deforestation and change of rainforest for monoculture cacao plantations. Pacari doesn’t own cacao plantations; we work with the organic certified cacao farmers and indigenous communities.


Pacari has been working directly with WWF Ecuador on a project related to conservation of endangered animals and improving the livelihoods of the indigenous communities on this project.

Pacari Chocolate is certified as a fair trade enterprise by World Fair Trade Organisation, something that is far better and beyond buying Fairtrade cacao from a certified cooperative. Apart from buying fair trade certified cacao, which can be done by some unethical companies, this certification certifies the company’s practices and supply chain under the 10 Fair Trade principles, this means that the company puts planet and people first.

S: Could you tell us more about the buzz, surrounding tree to bar chocolate?

JS: Around 99% of chocolate currently sold in the UK aren’t tree to bar, by that it means that they import the raw materials (cacao beans) and then make the chocolates here. This keeps people in the countries that grow cacao (usually developing countries) trapped in one role as farmers who depend on their raw materials being purchased and making it to the U.K. Often, they even package up their chocolate as locally ‘Made in the UK’ or ‘British cacao Growers’ even though cacao trees do not grow here.

Tree to bar chocolates like Pacari Chocolates make up 1% of chocolate sold, where the entire supply and production chain actually take place in the country that grows the cacao, in this case Ecuador.  This means that not only are there over 4000 farming families involved in direct trade from various cooperatives, but also local people are involved in the production, sales, design, marketing ensuring more jobs, wealth, know-how and opportunity remains in the developing country. We are proud to sell the products on their behalf.

S: How does Pacari work with the cacao farmers and the community in Ecuador?

JS: Since the beginning, Pacari has demonstrated a high level of the responsibility with our community and mainly with our cacao farmers. Pacari invests thousands of dollars annually to certify their cacao farmers as organic and biodynamic with the aim to motivate the farmers on maintaining organic and sustainable practices that do not impact negatively on the soil.

It is not only the economic investment, but also the true concern for the improvement of their living conditions. Pacari has worked untiringly for 18 years in workshops for their farmers to teach them better practices for the soil, for the management of their association of cacao farmers and for the development of their product. Pacari is currently working in a social project that aims to improve the socioeconomic living conditions of the farmers through the provision of machinery that helps to effectively work the land, help new associations of cacao farmers to obtain the organic certification and increase visibility of women in agriculture.

These difficult times due to COVID-19 has been no exception. Even though sales have been impacted due to the pandemic, we never stop buying from the farmers their products. We maintain the price for their cacao that it is usually 3 times higher than the standard and usually 2 or 3 times higher than the Fairtrade price.


For the past years Pacari has been working with the Kichwa indigenous community of Zancudo Cocha, together with WWF Ecuador to help to improve their livelihood. This is done by training them in organic cacao practices, paying for their organic certification process, buying their cacao and paying an additional 60% of the local average price.

S: What’s the process of creating a Pacari chocolate bar, from start to finish?

JS: Firstly, you have the harvesting process, done by the cacao farmers. Then they take the cacao to their organisations where it is received and the cacao farmers are paid. Then the cacao starts a process called fermentation for few days and after that goes through a natural drying process. Once this is done the cacao is transported from the farmers organisations to Pacari Chocolate in Quito.

At the factory the cacao beans go through a process of cleaning, hand selection and then into the final steps of taking the shell and breaking it into cacao nibs (pieces) before going to be transformed into a liquid chocolate. From there it is then transformed in our delicious chocolate bars.

S: Have you come across any challenges in the market when focusing on sustainability?

JS: The biggest challenge is that many people know nothing about chocolate production and therefore are unaware of the damage that is happening to people and the planet across the world in unethical production.

When we do chocolate tastings, many people have never seen a cacao pod before, know nothing about how each cacao bean is genetically different and how hugely diverse cacao trees are being chopped down to make room for cheap cloned cacao to meet demand for chocolate around the world. They do not know that that current unethical production locks farmers into poverty and uses child labour, harmful pesticides and misleading packaging and marketing claims. The challenge therefore is raising awareness with consumers about the need to understand how the chocolate we enjoy is made and how we can make sure we choose to eat ones that ethically and responsibly and sustainably sourced.

To confront these challenges we have to invest lots in educating, via talks, workshops, media, chocolate tastings among others here in the UK and the Pacari Chocolate Tour in Ecuador. This is costly and difficult and now with the COVID-19 restrictions this has been very difficult to do. We have been offering online chocolate tasting and we will continue do to offer this, which is a magnificent gift for any chocolate lover.

S: What are your plans for the future of Pacari?

JS: For us, in the UK, the biggest plan is to keep trying to raise awareness of both this award-winning brand and generally what consumers should be looking for if they want to buy ethical chocolate. It is a very difficult time at the moment, because of COVID-19 sales to shops, distributors, trade fairs and shows have all stopped. This is obviously not just in the UK but the whole world. We are in regular contact with the Pacari team in Ecuador and are doing our best to keep supporting the work through our online shop and online tasting sessions.

S: What’s your go-to product from your range?

JS: This is a tricky one. With over 50 products and gift sets to choose from, it is hard to pick one. Personal favourites are chocolate covered bananas, passion fruit and the plain single origin range. These are bars made exclusively from beans from different areas and each one tastes completely different, just like wines taste different depending on the grape and the region.

However, our best-selling product in the UK is actually the 100% raw cacao organic bar. This has no sugar and is pure cacao – so people have worked up to this bar over time and aren’t for those just starting with dark chocolate. It came as a surprise to us too, that this bar outstrips sales of all the other bars put together.

This is going to be a very different Christmas time, so why not get something that is unique and makes a real difference to the world, gifting with a good feeling and positive impact.


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