Pacari and Ecuador’s Chocolate History

For the months of June and July this past summer, I lived in Ecuador working in hospitals and living with host families. I spent one month in the Andean capital city of Quito and one month in the large coastal city of Guayaquil. Before coming to Ecuador, I had a general idea of things that I associated with the country, such as the Galápagos and Ecuadorian hats. Another one of my associations was chocolate. I knew that the chocolate in Ecuador was special, but I didn’t know why. I knew that I had heard people talking about Ecuadorian chocolate before, so I was excited to try this exotic form of chocolate, a commodity I saw daily in the United States. On one of my first days in Quito, we went to a large open-air market to shop and look at the handmade goods. One of the booths set up was selling a chocolate called Pacari. It was covered in a black wrapper with a different stripe of color for each kind of chocolate. I had finally come across some authentic Ecuadorian chocolate and I was ecstatic. I bought at least ten bars, very excited to bring them back home for my family to try and to try for myself. To my surprise, this chocolate brand kept appearing in stores all over Ecuador. I had assumed it was a small chocolate company that only traveled to a few craft markets. However, this Pacari company had a monopoly over the Ecuadorian chocolate industry. Everywhere a tourist would shop for Ecuadorian goods, a Pacari chocolate bar was sure to be presented, boasting of its 100% Ecuadorian cacao.

Some of the brightly colored Pacari bars with local flavors.

I was lucky enough to see this Ecuadorian cacao in person, in addition to eating the delicious chocolate made from it. During one of my weekend excursions to hike through the Amazon rainforest, our guide pointed out a tree with strange yellow-green oval pods growing straight from the branches. He cut one of these extraterrestrial-looking pods off and split it open with his machete, encouraging my group to each take one of the slippery, white sections and suck the pulp off of it. He explained to us that this was a cacao pod – the main ingredient to chocolate. I remember loving the sweet-sour taste of the white pulp – I even went to eat a second one – but I was trying to imagine how they were converted into chocolate. It wasn’t until taking this class that I realized the coveted cacao beans were inside of the white pulp. Living in Ecuador exposed me to some of the main topics we learned about in class, but without the framework of our chocolate class, I was ignorant about the realities of the chocolate-making process and types of chocolate companies in the world. Using my own experiences as inspiration, I will now explore the history of chocolate in Ecuador and analyze the Pacari chocolate company, using my new lens from AFRAMER 119x to engage with the topics.

A photo from my own camera roll of the cacao pod that we ate. I wasn’t aware that the cacao beans were encased by the white pulp.

Ecuador’s history with cacao and chocolate has been long; arguably the longest relationship with cacao that any region in the world has had. This is because the Amazon basin in the Andean region is considered to be the area where cacao originated. This region overlaps with part of modern day Ecuador. So it is no stretch to say that chocolate originated in Ecuador. Scholars theorize that cacao spread from Ecuador through trade routes up north to modern-day Mexico, where is gained popularity with the Olmec civilization (Coe and Coe). After Europeans discovered cacao, Ecuador became one of the largest exporters of cacao in the world and retained this status from the mid-1600’s to the early 1900’s. In the 1900’s, Ecuador lost a large portion of its cacao trees to a disease called witches’ broom, which knocked down its export volume (Leissle). Since then, Ecuador has regained its stake in the world chocolate market. In 2017, it was projected to hold 5.9% of the world production of cacao, coming in fourth place after the Ivory Coast, Ghana and Indonesia (Leissle). Ecuador also produces 75% of flavor beans in the world, which are beans that have a rare or prized flavor profile (Leissle). There are two major types of cacao trees that are grown in Ecuador. The first is nacional cacao, which is native to the area and is an example of a flavor bean. The second is CCN-51, which is a hybrid cacao plant that was bred to resist disease and produce more cacao than its natural relatives (Leissle). This hybrid brings up many topics about the sustainable future of cacao. While it does not have the same flavor as the nacional cacao, it is much more fruitful. Ecuador does not have the status as the largest cacao exporter in the world anymore, but it is still a major player in the global chocolate production chain and stays current with all of the modern advances in cacao growing.

Although Ecuador is a small country, it produced 100-400 thousand tons of cacao in 2014-2015 alone.

The world of chocolate is not all delicious treats and beautiful creations, however. There is a dark side that most Hershey and Cadbury consumers are not aware of. A huge amount of labor is required to harvest cacao pods and transform them into the beans that are sold to chocolate manufacturers. Throughout the world, the labor that is used to obtain cacao beans is sometimes not ethical. In South America and West Africa, the examples of child labor and extremely poor working conditions are staggering (Off). Children are often exploited to work long hours on cacao farms that their families also work on. The Harkin-Engel Protocol was passed in 2001 and aims to end the worst forms of child and forced labor on cacao farms after striking evidence of modern day slavery was found on cacao plantations (Ryan). The labor of cacao harvesting is at the base of the chocolate supply chain. Other players in the chain include cacao farmers, the local community, the national government, and finally the global market and big chocolate companies. Each layer has its own role in creating the chocolate that sits on supermarket shelves, but each layer is not equally recognized. It is important to acknowledge each player in the supply chain and to consciously buy chocolate that does not have any forced labor or modern slavery in any link of the chain. With these considerations of unethical labor in mind, we can examine the Ecuadorian chocolate brand Pacari and determine its values.

The country of Ecuador has the slogan “ama la vida’, which means love life. This slogan accompanies the logo on the Ecuadorian tourism website, which promotes exploration of the unique country. This website has an entire section dedicated to ‘Ecuador and Chocolate’, which is another example of how important chocolate and cacao are to the Ecuadorian culture. On this website, it cites Pacari chocolate as “one of the most well-known brands of chocolate in the country” (Chocolate Ecuador). Pacari obviously has a monopoly on the chocolate industry in Ecuador, meaning that it holds a lot of power in its ethical decisions and sourcing. The video below is on the tourism website and discusses the role of chocolate in Ecuador. It has multiple examples of the Pacari brand, which highlights how much of an impact Pacari has on the current Ecuadorian chocolate market.

A video on the Ecuadorian tourist website that highlights how important chocolate is to Ecuador’s history and culture.

The Pacari website is very user-friendly, with options to have the language be in English or Spanish. The website explains the companies’ story and guidelines. Started in 2002, Pacari Chocolate is a family-owned company that set out to change the way chocolate was made in Ecuador (“Pacari Chocolates”). The name Pacari meaning “nature” in the native language Quechua is a symbol for what the company stands for. They use only Arriba Nacional cacao, which is a cacao plant that is native to Ecuador. They source this cacao from small farmers that are local to Ecuador. This type of sourcing is called tree to bar, which they advertise on their website. Tree to bar and bean to bar companies are the gold standard of chocolate production, because they ensure a direct line between the chocolate producer and cacao harvester. This cuts out middlemen that can obscure the fact that there are unjust labor practices happening somewhere along the chain. The goal of Pacari chocolate was to change the history of chocolate in Ecuador, and the popularity of this clean-sourced cacao is helping that goal become realized.

A video that is on the Pacari website, showing images of how their cacao is harvested and their chocolate is made.

While Pacari advertises its tree to bar methodology, it does not have a list of the farmers it works with readily available on its website. There are videos of the cacao harvesting and chocolate making processes, as shown above, however there are no individual accounts of farmers the company has paired up with. In past sections of this course, we have examined similar bean to bar companies that readily advertise the farmers they have worked with. Perhaps Pacari does not advertise this because it is not as much of a focus in Ecuador as in the United States. Or perhaps there is another explanation, because the company is very proud of the fact that it only uses organic Ecuadorian cacao. The addition of a video of the farmers Pacari has teamed up with or a section of the website dedicated to them would strengthen the brand and drive their message home.

Another aspect of the Pacari chocolate company that can be tied back to our class is its ingredients. A large selling point that Pacari uses is its ‘exotic ingredients’ from around the area. Passion fruit, coffee, Andean rose, lemongrass, Cuzco pink salt, golden berries, Andean mint and chili are all flavors that are mixed with the Ecuadorian cacao to produce the Pacari bars. Each of these flavors is indigenous to the region around Ecuador, and Pacari really plays up this fact. They are trying to sell a wholly Ecuadorian bar and they utilize other indigenous flavors to help do this. This ties back to some of the early lessons of our class, when we discussed the different flavors that would be used in Mesoamerica chocolate compared to the flavors used in European chocolate. Flavors like chili were used hundreds of years ago to mix with chocolate and they are still being used today.

As a foreign tourist visiting Ecuador with no prior knowledge of chocolate, it was clear that Pacari was very popular in the country. Its advertisement of being a unique Ecuadorian bar, with Ecuadorian cacao and flavors, definitely worked on me. This marketing, combined with my prior notion that Ecuadorian chocolate was special, created a very sellable product. Researching the chocolate company now, I am thankful to hear that I purchased from a socially conscious brand. They source their cacao from local farmers in Ecuador that they have a relationship with, cutting down the supply chain from laborers to chocolate manufacturers. While this company is well established in Ecuador, the next step is to make a name for itself in the international market. Pacari is sold in major cities around the world, but only in select stores. They have an incredible marketing concoction; chocolate made from locally sourced ingredients in the country where chocolate originated. And they have ethical practices that need to be shared around the world. Tree to bar companies are more expensive to finance, but they are the future if we want to eradicate unfair labor around the world. Supporting chocolate companies like Pacari is a solid first step in making the chocolate production chain less corrupt and more ethical.

Works Cited

Carol Off. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. Random House Canada, 2006.

Chocolate Ecuador – País Del Chocolate. Accessed 3 May 2019.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Third, Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2013.

Kristy Leissle. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.

Martin, Carla. Mesoamerica and the “food of the gods”. February 6, 2019.

Martin, Carla. Modern day slavery. March 27, 2019.

Martin, Carla. Sugar and cacao. February 20, 2019.

Orla Ryan. Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. Zed Books Ltd., 2011.

“Pacari Chocolates.” Pacari Chocolates, Accessed 3 May 2019.

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