Suzanne created the brand "La maison du chocolat Ivorien", under the fitting name "Les douceurs de Suzanne" (Suzanne’s sweets or sweetness)
She had to use all the cunning at her disposal to obtrude herself in a oh-so masculine and very controlled market.
Her first and foremost goal was to open a door - at long last, if I may - to the "made in Ivory Coast" showing the rest of the world her country not only has some of the best cocoa in the world but also can produce amazing chocolate.
Suzanne’s involvement in her business has a big downside though: She had to sacrifice her family and to some extent, her woman’s time to make it thrive.
As of today, she still helps her workers and producers in the field.
She breathes chocolate, thinks chocolate, lives chocolate...but also never forgets her -very undertanding- daughters.
But enough talk for now: Let’s see what one of her excursion she made to show us how it looks like.
Ivory Coast, the ever welcoming land: the first cocoa plantations started there as soon as 1970. Today, they cover a whooping 2 million hectares.
Ivory Coast is the first cocoa exporting country in the world, handling 40% of the world’s production alone, aka 1500 million tons a year.
Cocoa Pod on the tree
There are several cocoa types, and wicked men (also named "trackers") are procurers able to starve producers out in order to get the lowest possible price.
They’re not afraid to mix cocoa qualities, or even use all their influence to lower the offical rate. Of course, this is all to the benefit of big industrial groups.
Cocoa producers end up selling their life’s work at insulting prices. In 2003, cocoa price fell down to a ridiculous 207 CFA (0,31€) per Kg instead of the supposed 800 CFA official rate.
This kind of practice was a wake up call for Suzanne. She completly changed the way cocoa business is usually handled: On site transformation, processes and products protection for each different steps.
She works closely with her producers to maintain manual tempering: artisan roasting.
She alone buys 8 tons of cocoa a year.
On the subject of having female employees only, Suzanne states the following:
“I only hire women because they are relentless, fight a renewed strength every day, even when the task at hand is extremely hard. The idea is to build a chocolate academy, educating producers to handle their plantations in the most efficient and respectfullway possible”
Cocoa Butter :
Her action is essential, as she inspired the on-site processing concept, and the very important that "made in Ivory Coast" could mean quality manufactured products as well.
Sadly though, we didn’t get to visit her factory’s laboratories. Indeed, Suzanne, with good reason, wants to keep both sites and processes secret.
But! we got lucky enough to taste a very unique chocolate: Suzanne lets it ages (yes, exactly like good wine). This particular one was 6 months old. We are kind of dark chocolate fans, and we can safely vouch for her product. That was easily one of the best chocolate we ever tasted. Besides all that, Suzanne, far from boorish, treated us with some eloquent sweetness.
That hot chocolate still makes me drool just thinking about it, despite the scalding 40°C we have here in Thaïland, while I’m writing these lines.
Moreover she shared her own lunch, a delightful home made Manaïch (Lebanese thyme and sesame bread).
In the meantime, loads of little handmade chocolate were waiting to be tasted on the stalls of the shop :
Back to the Ivorian matter : loads of ambitious projects are blooming at the moment, a promise for a better future for Ivorian producers. Suzanne wants to set the example, showing that a different way is possible. One can hope international companies will get more involved in the cocoa/chocolate developpement, by pushing for quality rather than quantity.