Kitchen Tips

Meet OCHO: the craft chocolate company bringing sweetness back to Dunedin

From the cacao farms of Papua New Guinea, Fiji and the Solomon Islands to a refurbished factory in Dunedin’s warehouse precinct, OCHO’s lovingly made dark chocolate has a story to tell. And a delicious one at that.

By Harriet Keown
Following the closure of the iconic Dunedin Cadbury Factory in 2017, there was a chocolate-flavoured hole in the hearts of the deep south. Now, thanks to a hugely successful crowd-funding campaign, OCHO is here to fill that hole with their own Dunedin-made chocolate bars. With ethically and sustainably sourced beans from the Pacific Islands and a team of passionate chocolate makers, OCHO is making waves in the New Zealand craft chocolate scene. We talk to the crafty chocolatiers about their story, their bean-to-bar processes and why everyone should be making a trip to Dunedin for a tour of their newly-opened chocolate factory.

Q: What is the story behind OCHO chocolate?

In November 2017, OCHO raised $2M in less than 48 hours to expand and retain chocolate making in Dunedin following the announcement of the closure of the Cadbury Factory and Cadbury World. One year later, the new machinery line from Italy was lifted into the new production premises. Now OCHO is owned by over 3,000 people from across New Zealand who get a discount on OCHO chocolate for life.

Q: Can you explain the concept of bean-to-bar craft chocolate?

Bean-to-bar is a phrase that we use to explain the processes that are done under one roof. We do everything from sourcing, roasting, grinding, conching, tempering and hand wrapping in our factory in Dunedin.
Craft is a philosophy and denotes the way we do those bean-to-bar processes. We have expert chocolate makers who taste the product at every stage to ensure it fits the right profile. They use their hands to sort the beans, fill the moulds, and wrap the bars.
People tend to think craft is the same as boutique, but it isn't. Boutique is all about size and we are expanding. We are definitely different to large commercial manufacturers though, so we say craft chocolate is bespoke in comparison.
The first batch of beans delivered by a crane into the new OCHO chocolate factory.

Q: Why is it important to you to source your beans from the Pacific?

Community is one of our core values, that's why we ran the crowdfunding campaign so we could have a broad base of ownership. Our community is not only the people in Dunedin, or New Zealand, but also includes our neighbours in the Pacific. We source from Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Fiji. We travel there to meet the growers and check out the fermentaries to ensure quality and also solidify long-term relationships. We are also conscious of our carbon footprint, so shipping tonnes of beans from the other side of the world wouldn't fit with our principles.

Q: What ethical factors are important in terms of your supply chain and the way your chocolate is made?

OCHO specialises in single-origin chocolate, meaning the cacao sourced from various places in the Pacific is kept separate right down to the farm it was grown on. We want our customers to feel good about chocolate, not only by knowing there are minimal ingredients, but also that the sourcing of the cacao is 100% ethical and traceable. When you visit the OCHO Factory we have videos of our visits to the Islands so you can meet the growers too.
The Otago Chocolate Company welcome sign from OCHO's first sourcing trip to Papua New Guinea.
Phillip, from the Sanago fermentary, with some ripe cacao pods.

Q: What sustainable aspects of your business are you most proud of?

Everyone who works at OCHO is passionate about different aspects of sustainability whether that be managing our waste, energy and water consumption, or being Living Wage employers, caring for our customers and being responsible for what is in the product they consume. Being sustainable is something we want to build into the bones of this business, and not wait until we are making a huge profit.

Q: How do you think opening up your factory for tours will be valuable for the public?

The tasting session highlights the influence origin has on flavour, much like wine. Our Papua New Guinea bars have only cacao and sugar in them, but you can taste fruity, raisin notes; whereas the Fiji bar is more nutty, though it contains no nuts whatsoever. To show the craft difference, there are also samples of commercial chocolate found at the supermarket.

Q: Why should Kiwis be supporting local, ethical and sustainable businesses?

The price point is often a barrier to Kiwis being ethical. Basically, if you are paying less than $10 for a block of chocolate, someone is getting duped, whether it is the grower, the maker, or the consumer.
Some research is now showing that the effects of climate change ultimately could destroy the supply of cacao, and chocolate could become extinct. We are working on proving manufacturing can be done sustainably to ideally encourage other manufacturers to do the same, but we can only keep fighting the good fight with the support of our customers.

Q: What can we expect to see from OCHO in the near future?

OCHO is now concentrating on getting on the shelves in specialty retailers across the country. Hopefully you will see us at your local whole foods store, supermarket, or gift shop!
Tour & Tasting sessions run 11am and 2pm, Tuesday - Saturday. More information at Bookings essential.