Fulfilling dreams through chocolate

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By Bjorn Biel M. BeltranSpecial Features Writer

Success comes in many forms. For others, it may be from the fulfillment of ones dreams and aspirations. For some, it might come from doing good in the world. For Hiraya Chocolates, success comes from achieving both.

Hiraya, taken from an ancient Filipino word meaning the “fruit of one’s hopes, dreams, and aspirations”, originates from the popular phrase “Hiraya Manawari,” which generally means “may the wishes of your heart be granted”. Alvin Joseph Peralta, founder and chocolate maker at Hiraya Chocolates, believes it is the perfect name for his company, for it was founded on the philosophy of bringing joy and fulfillment to all those it touches — from the cacao farmers who toil daily to produce cacao, to the customer who has just discovered the taste of quality Filipino chocolate for the first time.

“We want to be known as a creative and world-class Filipino chocolate brand, and to uplift the lives of our cacao farmers by directly trading with them and paying a premium for quality beans,” Hiraya wrote on its Web site.

“We can ensure that [our cacao farmers] earn more for their labor and helping secure for them a better quality of life. We also stand for and embrace the roots and origin of our brand as a Filipino product, and we wanted these ideas to be reflected in the kind of chocolates we produce.”

Hiraya began as an idea that Mr. Peralta came up with after attending a four-day GK Social Business Camp in 2014. He had previously learned how to make chocolates in four years prior in a chocolate school in Canada so it was perfect. And he wanted to do more, realizing possibility of turning his dreams of chocolate into a social enterprise that creates real and lasting change.

“We are one of the few countries that can grow cacao trees, and yet we only have a few fine quality chocolate brands. Globally, demand for chocolates has been increasing especially for developing countries, that’s why we wanted to ride this opportunity to use local ingredients and help create and develop a Philippine chocolate industry,” Mr. Peralta told BusinessWorld in an interview.

Hiraya is not alone, however. The company sources its cacao from the scenic highlands of Barangay Malabog in Mindanao, more or less 500 meters above sea level and two hours away from Davao. As more businesses and start-ups are realizing the potential profits to be made from tapping local produce, Hiraya is seeing more competition each passing year.

“Most sources of cacao come from Mindanao, specifically in Davao, but we can also develop other areas in our country as well,” Mr. Peralta said.

“Cacao is a high-value cash crop product which can be intercropped with existing farms with trees, and a lot of farmers can benefit from adding cacao to their crops. In terms of the business climate, we expect increasing competition with other brands, but we hope for this to be an agent of change to improve the lives of our farmers.”

Mr. Peralta said that not only is it challenging to sell local chocolates to a middle-class market that has grown used to the taste of imported brands, battling the false perception that locally produced goods is inferior has also made life harder for their farmers. But he believes that the tides are finally turning for the local market.

“It’s a challenge to a certain extent because the big middle-class markets are more accustomed to imported taste, and they also perceive it to be better in terms of quality. But the market situation is now changing, and there’s an increasing number of people who are also becoming more aware of the local product movement,” he said.

“The challenge is educating consumers but we keep a positive outlook that things are getting better and moving in favor of local products in general. We do chocolate tasting workshops occasionally to bring together chocolate lovers and tell them about our story — about social enterprises, about fine quality chocolates, about our processes, what we stand for, and how we make an impact.”

“I believe that there is a growing love for local chocolates, and not just in our industry but across many industries as well. There is a movement that seeks to revitalize local products through better quality and innovative products,” he added.