La Ruta del Chocolate is a small company in the Putumayo department, in the Amazonic region in the South of Colombia. It consists of two business units: tourism services related to a real cocoa experience and cocoa derivatives such as cocoa liquor, cocoa wine, chocolate bars and others. The company was part of the Rutas PDET program: a peace fund in Colombia, financed by the EU, which was co-implemented by Trulab. By connecting the entrepreneurs to new customers and supporting them with strategic, operational and financial know-how, they were able to close new deals with SMEs in the country.
La Ruta del Chocolate started in 2015, when a married couple bought El Pedregal farm, located in the Mirador Sector Alto county from Orito in Putumayo. In 2016 the family produced the first cocoa’s crops with financial support from a local bank. They also got support (such as seeds) from the cocoa’s social rural organization (Asoprocao), representing cacao growers in the municipality.
La Ruta del Chocolate participated in 10 entrepreneurship challenges to achieve seed and start-up capital. By winning 4 of these challenges, they were able to increase the capacity of the factory with new assets (machines), do some small adaptations to the factory, and get a legal registry (with the Colombian food and medicine agency INVIMA – to sell final consumption goods). The owners themselves aso invested in their company.
The company received support from the Rutas PDET program to increase their capabilities in four areas: strategy, financial analysis and sustainability, operations and trade opportunities. With support, the organization managed to collect data information, learned how to generate and process this information, and how to do a deep analysis about its costs, financial and accountability. They managed to develop a data sheet needed for new clients (local retailers) related to the industrial line of cocoa liquor (cocoa mass). These sheets helped them establish commercial leads while participating in fairs.
Since 2019, with the establishment of La Ruta as a natural person, the owners have had a good relationship with many of the cocoa grower organizations in the department, becoming a place to teach and show adding-value process to the cocoa from the rurality. Early 2020 the farm of Ruta del Chocolate was opened to the public to show the process of making chocolate, starting from the harvest until the tasting of the hot chocolate. The BDS support received resulted in an increase of sales between 2020-2021 (from 32 million COP in 2020 to 81 million COP at the end of 2021, reaching 92 million COP in 2022).
At this moment, Ruta de Chocolate is the only company with the capability of cocoa liquor production to quasi-industrial level at the Putumayo department.
Nowadays La Ruta del Chocolate has 12 cocoa growers family suppliers near the farm; five of them being women and one a young supplier under 28.
The entrepreneurs have the backup of the social rural organization from their own municipality with 103 growers (of which 32 are women and 3 youth). The association sells 200 kilos monthly, paying an overprice about 500 COP per kilo additional to the common pricing negotiation.
The organization has a pricing policy to the growers with 500 COP or more per kilo additional to the market price paid in the municipality (according to the quality of the grain, the type of variety, among other technical conditions).
The current status of the organization does not yet allow for a payment model of full wages and legal compensations. La Ruta pays fees to the three full-time employees as well as to the 2 part-time people who help during part of the day, plus an extra bonus.
The entrepreneurs that started la Ruta are the married couple Alexander Caicedo Bermudes and Mary Luz Casamachin Pichicue. They come from the indigenous Inga community. They are the two shareholders: Alexander for 60% and Maryluz for 40%. Although Alexander has the majority of the shares and responsibilities (especially at the trade and merchandising) and is the legal representative, he always takes the decisions together with his wife.
Alexander’s responsibilities are more focused on having meetings with potential clients, showing the current products such as Chocolate Orikao (hot chocolate to prepare), Crema Orikao (cocoa spread). He is also close to the providers to be in constant communication with the rural organizations from the (nearby) zones and be sure of a constant assortment of cocoa grain and mucilage. Mary Luz leads the operational management of the company, and she hires the personnel to contribute to the corporate objectives.
La Ruta is located in Putumayo and its value chains cover especially Orito and to some minor extent Mocoa and Puerto Asís. There are shipments to capital cities in the country such as Medellín, Bogotá and Cali. The potential B2B commerce market is located in the industrial areas of Bogotá. This is where La Ruta sells the cocoa liquor.
La Ruta del Chocolate currently has presence in two stages of the cocoa value chain, being the only one that nowadays has the unique quasi-industrial capacity of processing cocoa liquor in the department:
The first stage is the one of production on their own 4 productive hectares, and their own drying house. This is where they teach cocoa growers from the region and the tourists who are interested in learning about and improving the cocoa chain.
The second stage is the value-addition one. The main differential of the business is the capacity to elaborate nibs, cocoa liquor (mass), hot chocolate, chocolate bars, and cocoa-derived such as the nectar juice from mucilage or cocoa-derived wine.
The main market share of the enterprise is comes from selling to the final consumers as a strategy during the tours at the farm in its service section. However, the B2B commerce is growing thanks to the acquisition of the data sheet during the incubation /BDS program from Rutas PDET in 2021.
Although La Ruta del Chocolate is no longer member of Asoprocao, they maintain commercial relationships and support each other and the growers. La Ruta has been working with 103 cocoa growers (members of Asoprocao) since its constitution in 2019.
La Ruta del Chocolate has the intention to work with at least 3 organizations from the Kausai Sacha, to buy mucilage to elaborate and offer cocoa’s nectar juice, where La Ruta teaches the growers the appropriate ways of harvesting, increasing production and maintaining the quality of the cocoa (meaning to get a better price while selling back). With the growth of La Ruta, it hopes to increase the capability of job generation in the region (at least a total of 495 cocoa growers).
By providing commercial support to the company, the results have been very positive, doubling the sales of the company and with the potential to continue growing in that same path. This company, despite being smaller than the investments that Truvalu usually makes, has given us a unique opportunity to link a local company (very few in post-conflict areas) with SMEs from major Colombian cities seeking to generate local impact. Likewise, we open an opportunity for SMEs that are not producing very large volumes, to be supplied by La Ruta del Chocolate to generate equitable exchange conditions.
As a first financing step, we have granted a loan to the company, which combined with a second stage of business development services, will help the company to consolidate its B2B strategy. la Ruta was also supported in developing its website to create better visibility.