Chocolates weren’t the first to cross Marielle Flores-Moens’ mind when she was coming up with ideas for a business. The Filipina who migrated to Belgium has always been interested in e-commerce and started with product concepts like 3D lamp or visual boards. The cacao idea came to her through a conversation she had with her husband, Matthias Moens. Marielle recalls the horror of Matthias when he first tasted the rich flavor and rough texture of tablea chocolate from the Philippines. At first, Matthias didn’t think it would sell but Marielle firmly believed in marrying Belgium chocolate with the cacao beans from her home country. This produced the world’s first Belgian Tableya, Theo & Brom.
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Bringing back the Bean to Bar Movement
Belgium is famous as the leading chocolate-maker in the industry. Chocolatiers lead the process of making these delicious sweets. It takes education and years of experience to beautifully craft these pieces. Though the art of shaping chocolates is something Marielle appreciates, she took interest in the role of chocolate makers. They are different from chocolatiers because they know how to work from the cacao bean itself. They are familiar with the process of roasting, crushing the husk, and sifting the actual cocoa. It is then cooled down and molded into different shapes.
Belgium is already years into the industry and people only consume hot chocolate from processed powder. The whole chocolate-making process is industrial with only over 20 Bean to Bar makers. Marielle wanted to veer away from commercial and go back to the manual process. With the help of Dr. Zoi Papalexadratou, a scientist in the cacao industry and Mario Vandeneede, an award-winning chocolate artisan, Theo & Brom’s Belgian Tableya was developed.
In the Philippines, key players like Auro Chocolate are bringing back the bean to bar movements. “They’re the ones elevating the quality of Philippine cacao that is making it part of the export,” Marielle explains. Some companies buy cocoa in bulk at cheap prices but others believe in helping and teaching farmers as well as investing in their farms.
The Potential of Cacao Beans
There has been news about chocolate scarcity and while this stirs up fear especially to people with sweet tooth, Marielle believes “There is some truth to that in a way that if it’s going to be used in mass quantities like this, [chocolate may get scarce] because there is a lack of producers.” She explains Cacao only grows once a year with two kilos of fruit. Recently, the Philippines has started to invest in cacao seedlings to do massive crop planting. The demand for chocolates is continuously growing and everyone is anticipating it.
The Future of Belgian Tableya
Theo & Brom started wholesale trials as their initial model is B2B. The Belgian Tableya sells for P2,000 per box of 4 rounds or €35 with additional shipping fees. Marielle is still planning if they will turn wholesale into a permanent way of purchasing their tableyas. They are also looking for partner companies or specialty shops for chocolates that do curate boxes. Through networks, they are also trying to penetrate the wedding industry for those struggling to choose VIP wedding favors. Wine and cheese are quite common so the spouses want to introduce Belgian Tableya as a sweeter option for weddings.
For Budding Entrepreneurs
Though the spouses don’t have a culinary background, they were able to develop unique products through passion and hard work. Marielle says, “if you feel like the idea is worth pursuing, I think you should be passionate [about] the pursuit of that.” While she doesn’t even eat dessert, “I was excited and stubborn enough to pursue what I felt was a really, really good product.” She emphasizes to pursue a great idea and to find people who can help you achieve your goals. As for Matthias, he advises to “start very small.” One should learn through the process of starting and managing your business well.