Food In Canada

Luker Chocolate: From breakfast staple to fine flavours

By Alexandra Emanuelli   

Food Trends Confectionery Ingredients & Additives Colombia

Discover the journey of a Colombian brand that’s fostering positive change in cocoa-growing regions

Luker Chocolate, a 120-year-old family business, is synonymous with hot chocolate in Colombia. Photo © Luker Chocolates

While hot chocolate is savoured over skiing slopes and around Christmas trees in most of the world, the drink is a breakfast staple in Colombia. Turning a traditional, artisan beverage into an accessible everyday option for households, Luker Chocolate started their business with sweetness and scruples in mind.

“It’s a company that started with the idea of bringing hot chocolate to all families in Colombia, but [the idea was] also to see how through that product, and through developing hot chocolate, they could also bring development and well-being to cocoa-growing, rural families in Colombia,” said Marcela Jaramillo, VP of marketing for Luker Chocolate, a 120-year-old family-owned business.

Fine flavoured cocoa

When we think of Columbian crops, cocoa might not be top of mind. But Colombia is the 10th largest cocoa producer in the world. It produced 62,000 tons in 2022. What sets the country apart is that 95 per cent of the country’s cocoa for export is fine flavour cocoa. A special quality classification designated by the International Cocoa Organization, fine flavour cocoas have nutty, floral, or even fruity flavour profiles and is ideal for chocolates.

“[This cocoa] allows us to develop dark chocolates, for example, an 85 or 90 per cent, and still taste all the aromas and flavours that we love about chocolate, without having to add too much to the chocolate,” said Jaramillo.

Cocoa farming is also a safe and sustainable alternative to illicit activities such as drug trafficking and the violence that goes along with it. Remote and isolated, Colombia’s countryside and cocoa-growing regions have been especially affected by the 50 years of narco trafficking.

“Cocoa is a great income option for communities that live in lower altitude areas where illegal crops are grown. So, cocoa is a strong option to also drive peace in the countryside,” added Jaramillo.

Luker’s portfolio includes everything from 90 per cent dark chocolates to 36 per cent white chocolates.

Global footprint

In 2005, Luker expanded from hot chocolate to a line of couverture chocolates that are used by manufacturers to produce a wide range of products like baked goods and ice creams. Luker’s heritage recipe portfolio includes everything from 90 per cent dark chocolates to 36 per cent white chocolates.

Exporting to 40 countries, Luker Chocolates’ ingredients are used by manufacturers like GoodSam Foods, Petit Pot, and Lacey’s (Desserts On Us). The company employs more than 600 people with offices in Europe, the U.K., the U.S., and Colombia. Luker entered the U.S. market in 2008 and Canada in 2015. It  acquired  a  majority stake in Lyra group in 2022, a leading Slovakian chocolate manufacturer. Last year, Luker’s net revenue was over $110 million.

Private label

In 2008-09, Luker launched a private label division that now produces custom bars, snacks, chocolate-covered fruits and nuts, and a hot chocolate stick. Serving around 12 per cent of their total sales, the private label is manufactured in Colombia and in the recently acquired production facility in Slovakia. These facilities are certified BASC and FSCC2200, as well as offer kosher and non-GMO options. Jaramillo believes in “really working with brands to see how we can grow together and help them grow and find those business objectives that they have.”

New initiatives

In 2021, Luker launched an oat beverage-based chocolate. It was challenging to capture the indulgence and creaminess of the traditional line with novel ingredients, but after many trials and errors, they managed to formulate an oat beverage-based chocolate that mirrors dairy chocolate in taste and texture.

Other innovations include working with coconut sugar and creating sugar-free alternatives to cater to health-conscious consumers. In recent years, Luker has also been selling single-origin (i.e. country, region, estate) chocolates. Like wine, Jaramillo noted that each region provides a different flavour profile for the chocolate.

Traceability

While many companies have adopted sustainable practices, Luker Chocolates takes it one step further. In 2018, Luker signed the Cocoa and Peace initiative that prevents deforestation in cocoa-growing regions. Chocolate Dream, launched in 2018, teaches farmers how to protect local biodiversity, avoid water contamination and ensure responsible use of natural resources.

With a holistic approach to sustainability, Luker is also working to improve the lives of their workers. By 2027, the company is aiming to boost the incomes of 1,500 farmers by 20 per cent. They aim to do so by supporting education, gender-focused entrepreneurship, and reinforcing the human rights of 5,000 families. They are also working to achieve 90 per cent adherence to the Women’s Empowerment Principles, and in 2022, they changed policies emphasizing gender equality and fair pay for women.

Currently, all their cocoa can be traced to the first purchasing point, which the team at Luker says is crucial to ensure farmers are paid fairly and crops are grown sustainably. By 2027, Luker aims to conserve 5,000 hectares of land in the regions of Necocli, Tumaco, Huila, Casanare, Sur de Bolivar and Caldas. The company is well on its way to achieving this goal, as last year they protected 2,670 hectares by documenting the whole supply chain, demonstrating farmer’s payments and geo-referencing images. It plans to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2030. Having already achieved carbon neutrality across all their operations (including their farms), they are now tracking their carbon footprint and the footprint of their suppliers.

Sustainability

Recently, Luker earned B-Corp certification, a designation that highlights the company’s high social and environmental performance. The certification is a commitment not just to earning a profit but to their workers, the community, and the environment. Additionally, initiatives like the Chocolate Dream anchor their sustainability plans through a collaborative approach to sustainability and social well-being.

This article was originally published in the November/December 2023 issue of Food in Canada.


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